Board of Trustees Bi-Weekly Recap

Bi-Weekly Recap: June 29, 2020

Hello WESTAF Board of Trustees:

The biweekly comes to you a little later this fortnight, as I am just returning from some time off. You might have noticed that these biweeklies have of late begun to include lots of rich contributions from the WESTAF leadership resource team (LRT) and this one is no exception. Of note, some great updates from SRI (Chrissy Deal), Technology (Adam Sestokas) and Public Policy (David Holland), in addition to further great updates from Seyan Lucero, Christina Villa and our product managers. Thanks, all. Let’s jump in:


As you may remember from a previous biweekly, July 6 was our next potential date for activating our five-phase return-to-the-office plan. Based on current national trends and a recent uptick in new Colorado coronavirus cases, we’re going to once again move the goal posts further into the summer and continue our virtual office environment just as we’ve been doing since March. There is just too much uncertainty with this pandemic and that has a negative impact on our willingness to return to the office. We’ll review our options once again around Labor Day. Safe safe out there, everyone. The whole WESTAF team will be notified about this latest update today, July 1.


Last Wednesday, June 24 the WESTAF Executive committee met for their monthly check-in. We updated the committee on the May cash summary report and May projections (more below), the compensation policy draft that’s currently in flight, and the status of our current performance management process. The committee was briefed on the organization’s latest working-from-home plan (above). The committee also approved the TourWest and WESTAF CARES grant funds for the region (more information on that below). The secretary and the chair of the Development Committee also briefed the group on some trustee term revisions, and the vice chair and chair of the EIC also reported out on a meeting with the strategic planning Equity cohort to ensure that both groups are in sync with our equity and inclusion priorities moving forward. The last 25 minutes of the meeting were reserved for Christina Villa and a recap of the ZAPP Spring Partner Meeting. This thorough and informative presentation covered how ZAPP in particular has been impacted by COVID since March, and what our assumptions are with our largest revenue-generating business as we move into budget planning for FY21.


These financial reports were presented to the Executive Committee on 6/24. Please remember these documents are confidential and should not be shared externally. First off, June Projections. As you’ll remember, these are each budget manager’s best guess as to where we end up at the end of FY20, 9/30 benchmarked against the revenue and expense goals we set at the beginning of FY20. It’s worth noting here that our SaaS business managers have added a net of $55.5K to their inflow projections compared to the previous month, due to a slight uptick in business activity, particularly in the CaFE business. Next, the May Cash Summary. This is a snapshot of our cash position ending 5/31. The May Financial Memo accompanies the cash summary to provide clarifying notes. The financials are slightly more complex due to the influx of cash for the Mellon grant program and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — both of which we received in May. We will apply the PPP funds to our payroll and rent in May, June and July, and Chrissy and her team are developing a plan to grant out the Mellon funds next FY and perhaps in part this FY. Overall, WESTAF’s financial position is strong, with relatively few new expenses. Since the onset of the pandemic, we have experienced a significant reduction in overall expense thanks to shrewd oversight and planning from our budget managers. We are in the midst of budgeting for FY21 (which starts on 10/1) and expect to have a tight budget next year — so having a cash surplus this year will help in this planning.


Now entering its third decade, TourWest grant recommendations were approved by WESTAF’s Executive Committee at their June 24 meeting. Over the course of one month, the TourWest panel, which was composed of 7 performing arts professionals with experience in the 13-state region, adjudicated 251 qualifying applications and recommended 236 for funding for a total of $504,330. As you may recall, our TourWest team has been in transition with Chrissy Deal and Lani Morris taking the helm after over a decade of leadership by Seyan Lucero. Lani expertly navigated the many twists and turns in this year’s process (due to COVID-19) and continues to learn and lead alongside Seyan as she passes on her knowledge of this critical WESTAF program. The official announcement is forthcoming in early July. Chrissy or Lani welcome any questions you may have. In addition to TourWest grants, the Executive Committee approved funding for the WESTAF CARES Relief Fund, the competitive grant program that provides general operating support to arts and cultural organizations in the West impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the help of 14 arts and culture leaders from across the 13-state region who served as grant panelists, WESTAF adjudicated the 441 applications received between May 6-11, 2020. Panelists convened between June 15-17 in four separate panels to discuss applications and offer guidance to WESTAF staff in determining the funding recommendations. Chrissy Deal, David Holland and CARES Grant Consultant Madalena Salazar, after five hours of discussion and deliberation, identified 45 organizations to be recommended for funding for a total of $829,500. Factors considered by staff, beyond the panelists’ evaluation and scores based on established criteria, which further informed the recommendations include geographic representation, organizational budget, state population size and diversity of underrepresented communities and art forms. This was a monumental team effort with support coming from across multiple departments and divisions over the course of over 2 months — a fact that Chrissy and her team are most grateful for. Look for the official notification of awardees before the 4th of July holiday. Awards will be dispersed within 30 days after receipt of a signed agreement and additional financial statements. Feel free to contact Chrissy or Madalena with any questions. 


Chrissy is thrilled to share the news that Madalena Salazar will be joining WESTAF once again as a full time employee beginning July 1. Since relocating to Albuquerque, NM in January of 2019, Madalena has maintained an important presence within the SRI team as a consultant on TourWest, our Leaders of Color programming and our expanding grantmaking endeavors, among other long-standing projects. As program manager based in Albuquerque, she will continue to advance and expand our work with the Leaders of Color network and, more immediately, coordinate efforts for the Mellon/WESTAF Regional Arts Resilience Fund program and the allocation of CARES Act funds to the Northern Mariana Islands. The SRI team is eager to draw on her equity and inclusion expertise as a staff member as we embark on our equity work more intentionally with the full staff in the months to come.


With TourWest and CARES moving into the next phase, the SRI team will take a quick breath and pivot to focus on the development of the WESTAF Regional Arts Resilience Fund. The fund is another opportunity—much like WESTAF CARES was—to live its values and direct resources to historically underrepresented communities in a manner that results in quantifiable and systemic change. WESTAF’s Regional Arts Resilience Fund will seek to support organizations led by and/or predominantly serving individuals from historically marginalized and under-resourced communities that identify as: Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC); low-income, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+; and/or rural and remote areas. Additional guidelines, which will include a peer or self-nomination process and recommendations from regional advisors from across the western region, will be available in July. Advisors will be arts leaders with a depth of knowledge about the field, including how best to represent and support the aforementioned communities. Select organizations will be invited to apply. You can expect to hear more about this opportunity in the coming weeks. 


The Utah Division of Arts & Museums recently received $9M in state CARES Act funds, part of a larger package of support for the arts and cultural community outlined in HB5010, which recently passed the Utah Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert. Congratulations to WESTAF Trustee Vicki Bourns, WAAN member, and Executive Director of the Utah Cultural Alliance Crystal Young-Otterstrom, and advocates across the state of Utah for this significant achievement in these challenging times. This is the first such example that we are aware of in the region of state relief funds being directed to support arts and cultural programs. 


Over the last few months, WESTAF has been engaged in ongoing conversations with state arts agencies and arts advocacy organizations in four WESTAF region states—Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Wyoming—about special legislative sessions and downward pressure on state budgets that could acutely affect the budgets of state arts agencies in these states. WESTAF has been supporting these states in developing advocacy strategies and has deployed additional funds to some of our state arts advocacy partners—Arts for Colorado, Arizona Citizens for the Arts, and Wyoming Arts Alliance so far—to support increased engagement with lobbyists and other tactics and strategies aimed to address these challenges (by redirecting funds within the Alliances budget). These efforts are likely to expand to other states in the coming months. WESTAF is also advising some states about transitioning to new lobbyist relationships as they plan for the next legislative session. Along with the creation of WAAN, these efforts are part of our commitment to being responsive to the needs of our constituents across the region. 


WESTAF continues discussions with NASAA about a potential research collaboration, and David was recently invited by NASAA to join an advisory group that will be reviewing new advocacy messaging strategies aimed at policy makers across the entire political spectrum. This sensitive work is particularly important in a presidential election year and is vital to state arts agencies in our region and nationally where there are vastly differing political realities.


Christian and David, along with other RAO representatives, have been in discussions with the Kennedy Center about a proposed collaboration with RAOs on an “Arts Across America” program that would engage artists and cultural practitioners across the country in 20 weeks of virtual programming delivered on social media involving all US states and jurisdictions. As plans are more defined, this work will be led by the Social Responsibility and Inclusion team and will involve engagement of WESTAF’s performing arts networks through TourWest and SAAPAD. The Kennedy Center will be curating and managing the project using the recommendations received from RAOs and their networks.


State analyses of WESTAF COVID-19 Arts Impact Survey results have been shared with Arizona Citizens for the Arts, Nevada Arts Council, Idaho Commission on the Arts, Wyoming Arts Council and Wyoming Arts Alliance, and a gubernatorial task force that is examining the arts in recovery in Montana. State level analyses of the data continue with an emphasis on those states in which major surveys have not been conducted at the state level. In this month’s CVSuite blog post, Samantha Ortega makes the connection between WESTAF’s COVID 19 Arts Impact Survey and CVSuite COVID 19 Impact Reports in discussing the impact of COVID 19 on the region’s creative economy. 


Becca has launched a new time-tracking system that is connected to our online payroll. Instead of using Google docs to track the programs on which staff have spent their time and tracking non-exempt staff working hours, this system will be automated and will have an approvals workflow. This system will increase efficiencies for the F&A team and the rest of the staff. Amy and Becky have attended the yearly accounting review webinar presented by our auditing firm to ensure WESTAF remains current on the changing accounting rules and there are quite a few updates that apply to WESTAF’s operations. Amy has been working with Christian and Becca on drafting a Compensation Policy, which was recently reviewed by the Employers Council and will next be shared with the Leadership Team, Equity Cohort, and Executive Committee and then undergo a final legal review by the Employers Council. There are not many templates that can be referenced: this is a new process for all involved but is an exciting project to ensure more transparency regarding staff compensation. Connected to this work, the performance development process at WESTAF is being reconsidered so it can more fully support the new Compensation Policy as well. Draft one of the WESTAF budget is due from project managers soon. The Leadership Team will then review and adjust in early July to create a draft two.


It had been in the technology roadmap to add additional resourcing to the team and start to realize the full potential of technical growth at WESTAF. That was the plan in January and then again in June. However, given prevailing uncertainties, we’re not going to commit to additional salaried staff to support tech priorities right now. The technology team will instead continue to rely on current vendors while increasing their focus and capping expenses to a level that is providing some replacement value to WESTAF. If we keep our vendors focused, productive and customer and value oriented, they will continue to support WESTAF. The internal team will work towards mastering and growing our GO Smart and Public Art Archive products with very limited external assistance, assisting with large product builds on ZAPP and CaFE while maintaining deep knowledge of our infrastructure and code bases. As always, Adam provides technical guidance, and governance of our entire cloud infrastructure, code bases, network and hardware.  For a staff of three, this is still a large undertaking working within our current capabilities, even as the technology team has been making great strides and consistent progress. The biggest challenges of the past month have been related to certain vendor relationships, lack of documentation, and multitasking too hard. We need to accept what our new pace and commitments can be, stay within sustainable work goals and leverage a team oriented approach. These past two months featured more peer programming than the past five months together. Many hands make light work, and so do many minds. Our core work has been related to: mastering value added reports and automation for the Public Art Archive; redesigning and planning the redevelopment of the CaFE Administrative Portal; working with BRI to automate our deployment process; processing, investigating and remediating security concerns for our applications; updating our financial system from a 2009 ecosystem to 2019, and improvements across ZAPP and GO Smart. Next up is updating our phone system (10 years); our network infrastructure (4-5 years); security related updates; technical debt issues that would result in tech obsolescence; updating the framework of CVSuite (5 years); and GO Smart’s core features (excluding panels). Other day-to-day troubleshooting and reactive actions take up about 35% of the team’s time.   


The SaaS product teams have completed their OKRs (objectives and key results) for FY21.  These OKRs outlined the impacts within the technology, marketing, and business operation budgets for each product. The FY21 budget will be established with the OKRs as a factor, as well as keeping the current operations of the businesses. The business teams are finalizing the first version of the FY21 SaaS budgets and finalizing the mid-year burn down for FY20 spending. 


CaFE will close out June with nine new clients (three more are in the pipeline!), meeting or exceeding last June’s new signups. Applicant submissions are down 17% this year and the set-up of new calls is down 49% for May-June compared to the same time period in FY19. We want to highlight two of our recent new clients, African American Visual Artists Guild (AAVAG) and Leroy Allen Fine Art. AAVAG is an Ohio-based 501(c)(3) seeking art from artists of African descent, and Leroy Allen is a Black-owned Kansas-based art consulting firm seeking art for a local urban home development. CaFE also has two videos featured on the AFTA virtual con WESTAF page.


Both CVSuite and Public Art Archive were the highlighted technology products at the AFTA virtual convention in June. The collateral to be hosted at the AFTA virtual conference combined the PAA and CVS graphics. We also established a WESTAF sales page for these two products that can be distributed through AFTA advertising.  Both Lori and Kelly attended the virtual conference and personed the virtual booth chat. The COVID-19 Impact Reports campaign has sent out a follow-up response to potential clients, with a 70% open rate and 30% click rate. Account renewals and sales continue to be steady. We have a number of accounts that have finished the sales process and are waiting for payment with follow-up communications planned for next week. This past week, Trevor finished developing several different options for the Creative Vitality List, which our team will discuss at the end of the month. 


GO Smart has three sizable clients scheduled to renew July 1 that requested additional time to regroup after COVID. Of the three, Santa Fe Arts & Culture has renewed for an additional year but needs to decrease their programming. North Dakota Arts Council opted not to renew their 2020-2021 contract but will be paying for two additional months of service while they collect their data and finish out final reports. Jessica will be speaking with the executive director of the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County early next week. Pendleton Foundation requested a video demonstration to be shared with their board, a good sign of being more realistically considered. Ben is creating a comprehensive site map for all GO Smart portals that will serve existing and new developers. 


PAA, along with CVSuite, was a featured technology product at the AFTA virtual convention in June. The marketing team established digital engagement goals to drive traffic to PAA’s products and services page on the PAA website. Collateral was hosted within the virtual exhibition booth and distributed to registered attendees. We also established a WESTAF sales page for both PAA and CVS that can be distributed through AFTA advertising.  As noted above, Lori and Kelly attended the virtual conference and personed the virtual booth chat. PAA is completing the contracting process with its newest client, the City of Sacramento’s Office of Arts & Culture–the entity will subscribe to both the CMS and Showcase products. While sales and renewals are consistent, there is a delay in money received from Q3 clients that will be reflected in Q4 income.


We signed a new client, Handmade Arcade, which left a small competitor,, to join ZAPP. We also released two new features for artists—a condensed view of their My ZAPPlications page and a new timeline of important dates on event information pages. Our project to revamp our help centers is progressing well, with an estimated 70% completion for the administrator side. We hope to have the fully revamped WordPress help centers rolled out by the end of the fiscal year, which will include the ability for users to search for help topics and rate the quality of help articles.