Board of Trustees Bi-Weekly Recap

Bi-Weekly Recap: May 18, 2020

Hello WESTAF trustees!

There is so much happening at WESTAF right now, so I am super excited to see you all at our virtual meeting this coming Thursday, May 21. Thank you so much for your involvement in all things WESTAF. We realize how complex and perplexing navigating this new world has become for all of us, so for you to take this time to focus your attention and expertise on WESTAF means an awful lot and is deeply appreciated. Let’s jump right in:


On Friday, the full board of trustees also received an agenda and packet for the virtual board of trustees meeting on Thursday, May 21 from 2:00pm — 4:30pm MDT. The executive and development committees also received their agendas and board packets for their meetings on Wednesday, May 20. I am pretty sure that this is the first full and regularly scheduled trustee meeting that has ever been conducted by video conference. If you didn’t receive the packet, or if you have any last-minute questions about the meeting, please contact me or Natalie Scherlong and we’ll get you whatever you need.


Last week, WESTAF formally issued its Return-to-the-Office plan to the whole WESTAF Team. We kicked this process off several weeks ago with a team survey that gauged appetite and willingness — as a group and individually — around this process. With this data, we formulated the WESTAF Return-to-the-Office Plan featuring five, 2-week phases. We will remain, advance or retreat at each phase, looking at the 2-Week Cumulative Incidence Rate and the Current Epidemic Curve updated frequently by the Department of Public Health & Environment and the State Emergency Operations Center for Colorado. The two-week phases approach is modeled after CDC Guidelines Gating Criteria. At each two-week marker, we will determine if we need to stay in our current phase, advance to the next phase, or retreat to a previous one. Beginning Monday, May 18 we will begin to monitor our first two-week period. We will remain in our current WFH status during that time. If the data indicate an encouraging improvement, we will launch Phase 1 on Monday, June 1. If it doesn’t, we won’t. Spikes in new coronavirus cases are likely as we’ve already seen in other countries, states and counties, including Denver, so I want to emphasize that we are not in a hurry. We will be patient and deliberate at each phase. There’s no rush. Trust is very important, so it remains up to each staffer how much to engage with the plan, if at all, or if personal circumstance even affords the ability to do so, now or later. “So why do it all?” is a question we grappled with. Well, we need to be able to measure, track and record our progress and our setbacks. We need to establish benchmarks along the way, and we need a framework of common language and understanding around health and safety precautions when we talk about what a return to regular office life might look like. Waiting to see indefinitely with no plan in place at all can also be its own source of anxiety. We were also buoyed by a brief video message to all staffers from trustee chair Tamara Alvarado, which was awesome!


783 responses were received for the WESTAF COVID-19 Arts Impact Survey, and this draft report analyzes the final survey findings. The survey closed on May 1 and full findings will be released later this month. Initial results have been shared with state arts agency and state arts advocacy leaders across the region, and were used in WESTAF’s contribution to the initial collaborative RAO submission to the Mellon Foundation. WESTAF continues to revise the COVID-19 Update and Resources web pages on our website, and a presentation/briefing that provides deeper insights is also being revised on a weekly basis and continues to be shared with arts service organizations and arts funders in the West and nationally as we discuss ways to provide relief to the field. Both the COVID-19 Resources and COVID-19 Update pages have been top hits on the WESTAF website in March and April, and cumulatively the Update page has had 822 page views and the Resources page has had 3,849 page views.


The WESTAF CARES Relief Fund for Organizations application officially closed on Monday, May 11. With over 400 applicants from all 13 states, the team determined it would be beneficial to extend the deadline for 3 states with a low number of applications – Alaska, Nevada and Wyoming. The week of May 18, Chrissy and Madalena will finalize the applications and prepare to move to the next phase of the process, which involves orienting and convening 4 separate panels of 16 volunteers from the 13 WESTAF-region states over three days – June 15-17. Final funding recommendations will be made the last week of June with an approval and announcement by the end of the month.


WESTAF is engaging state arts agencies across the region that are anticipating and experiencing proposed budget cuts. Most recently, we responded to an inquiry from Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), which invited us to provide recommendations for courses of action to respond to a Joint Budget Committee staff recommendation to discontinue the transfer of gaming funds to the agency. This action, without any other proposal for forward funding, would have led CCI to cease operations. Working closely with the state advocacy organization Arts for Colorado and the WESTAF-supported lobbyist in Colorado, WESTAF sent appeals to JBC legislators and Arts Caucus legislators in the state respectfully asking them to continue state funding of CCI. WESTAF also organized an advocacy alert to our networks in Colorado to encourage them to write to their legislators expressing support for CCI. (This advocacy alert had an open rate of 41.8% and a click rate of 19.5%, and MarComms is working closely with Alliances, Advocacy, and Policy to use this rapidly deployed campaign to develop a strategy for any future campaigns.) On Monday, May 11, Colorado’s Office of State Planning and Budgeting director revealed a new, alternative recommendation that would provide CCI funding (though reduced) from General Funds that was prompted by a question from Colorado Senator Zenzinger, who reported having received a significant number of letters from arts advocates. WESTAF continues to monitor the situation and is prepared to respond with further action. WESTAF is also in conversations with arts advocacy groups in the region about coordinated actions in their states related to special legislative sessions considering state finances that could adversely affect state arts agency budgets.


Knowing that WESTAF is increasing its public engagement and advocacy activities, David has developed a draft of a Public Engagement and Advocacy Policy for board approval that clarifies, consolidates, and communicates WESTAF’s position on making public statements, managing advocacy funding programs, and engaging in direct advocacy.


As previously reported, seeded with a $10MM grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the US RAOs are launching a Resilience Fund that will provide non-matching grants to arts and cultural organizations across the US that face economic hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The fund will target rural and urban organizations that have statewide, regional or national impact. Grants will range from $30-75K and will support small and mid-sized arts organizations of all artistic disciplines, especially those that are historically under-resourced, and those representing under-resourced populations, communities, and art forms. The fund may support expenses associated with general operations, immediate response activities, future scenario planning, support for new media needs, help with the costs of collaborations, and costs associated with helping organizations reimagine their work and increase their resilience. It will lean into trust-based philanthropy, providing flexibility to organizations and their leaders so that they can direct funding to their most pressing needs and opportunities. And it will advance our field’s ongoing efforts to create and support new, equitable funding systems. The RAOs plan to continue fundraising around the fund with a goal of at least $2.5MM-$5MM in additional funding over the next 1-2 years.


Prompted by RAO conversations with Michael Orlove, director of state, regional and local partnerships, and international activities at the Arts Endowment, Christian and David met with Rachel Chanoff, director of The Office performing arts + film  an independent curator and production company based in New York and London, which has developed a concept for an Artists at Work (AAW) program that will support individual artists working in cultural hubs, first through a pilot in western Massachusetts. David has connected those in the WESTAF network working on similar initiatives in states in the region to The Office, and is speaking with Randy Engstrom, director of the Office of Arts and Culture, City of Seattle, who has proposed a Works Progress Administration (WPA)-style program there encompassing arts learning, arts and mental health, and public art. Christian and Torrie Allen, executive director of Arts Midwest, have been invited to join a national working group that will be exploring the potential to develop such a program(s) nationally. WESTAF has provided some recommendations and information to networks engaged in this work, and will explore this possible new direction in cultural policy that builds on antecedents like the WPA’s Federal Project One and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement’s community arts programs, both of which used jobs and public works programs to employ artists and support community arts, public art, and social practice. 


Monthly WAAN calls are being scheduled through June, and notes from the first meeting’s discussion have been shared with the network. The first meeting on April 24 included leaders of Alaska Arts & Culture Foundation, Alaska State Council on the Arts, Arizona Citizens for the Arts, Arts for Colorado, Californians for the Arts, Idaho Commission on the Arts, Inspire Washington, Nevada Arts Council, Utah Cultural Alliance, and Wyoming Arts Alliance. Leaders of Montana Cultural Advocacy, Cultural Alliance Nevada, Creative New Mexico, and Cultural Advocacy Coalition (Oregon), which are also members of the network but could not attend the first call, have been engaged by phone and email. 


As previously reported, the Arts Endowment has asked WESTAF to administer CARES Relief funding for Northern Mariana Islands. Planning for the WESTAF CARES Northern Mariana Islands program has begun and Chrissy, Madalena, and David have a follow-up call with Parker Yobei, executive director of the Commonwealth Council for Arts and Culture, after which details about the program’s eligibility and review criteria, guidelines, and timeline will be finalized.


The TourWest team (Lani Morris, Chrissy Deal, Madalena Salazar) had a successful orientation with the seven panelists who will be reviewing over 250 TourWest applications this month in advance of the June 18 panel meeting. This slight “down time” will allow the team to shift some of its focus to grantees from 2019 who are reeling from the effects of COVID-19 on performing arts venues and presenters.


Last week, Natalie Scherlong had productive meetings with both Leah and David. Since then, she has been conducting her own strategic research, as well as processing the resources shared with her to identify the next steps to move the work of the cohorts forward. In the meantime, Natalie has been onboarding newer full-time staff members onto the cohorts that most closely align to their interest areas. With the board meeting fast approaching, much of her focus has been placed on those preparations, and Natalie is excited to share her first strategic planning update with the board next Thursday. 


WESTAF has received a Paycheck Protection Program loan totalling $377,000. The team will work to ensure proper records are submitted for forgiveness as required by the Small Business Administration and USBank. It is projected that WESTAF will use approximately $346,000 of this loan on allowed expenses and will return the remainder unless there is a relaxation of the loan terms. The team is preparing for an upgrade to the finance server and to Great Plains, our accounting software. The upgrade will take place this Monday and Tuesday, when both systems will be down. Becca continues to work with Christian on the return-to-the-office plan and the corresponding logistics. Amy is building the FY21 budget documents that will be used by the staff to build their budgets by the end of June. The budget timeline will be reviewed at the May board meeting. 


The business teams have begun initial planning for the FY21 budget. Based on the WESTAF strategic plan, the business teams implemented Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) as a tool for setting goals to maximize alignment and transparency when pursuing ambitious goals in FY20. For budget planning in FY21, the business teams will review the OKRs from FY20 to evaluate successes and challenges to inform plans for the next year. After employing the OKR process to align individual SaaS product initiatives with the strategic plan, the business teams will review the FY21 OKR for financial impacts and consider those impacts when developing their FY21 budget. 


CaFE will host a free, monthly admin webinar on how administrators can build a better application. These webinars are part of ongoing customer retention efforts. We had a slow April for new sales, with just one new client added. We hope to rebound with a recently launched marketing campaign that will target former CaFE customers. The campaign, which will incorporate direct mail to a targeted audience and video advertisements, focuses heavily on why choosing CaFE also means choosing to support the arts. We hired Kenneth Cho as our new sales coordinator for CaFE and ZAPP. Cho recently moved to Denver from the D.C. area and has many years of inbound and outbound sales experience in the food and travel industries. 


The CVSuite team is launching a new COVID-19 impact report initiative and is strategizing how this initiative could be integrated as a service of CVSuite. We have produced reports for Colorado, California and Washington. The reports will initially be shared through our policy networks. The team chose to implement this initiative before moving forward with our planned marketing projects in an effort to be more responsive to COVID-19. Last week, we discovered a bug with the Specialized Impact Reports due to an unannounced change in county code identifiers from CVSuite data provider Emsi. Slow response on Emsi’s part caused the resolution to be delayed for a few days, however, the issue is now fixed. 


GO Smart had two promising demos with the Matanuska-Susitna Borough in Alaska, a potential client that could yield as much as $5,250 in annual revenue. The Borough received our marketing campaign offering a discount on COVID or new programs and Jessica continued to follow up with offers until the Borough reached out. TourWest closed successfully on 5/1/20 without any technical issues, and panelist orientation went well. The WESTAF CARES grant opened on May 6 and closed at 5:00 p.m. on May 11 due to overwhelming response. The grant received 415 applications. Jessica worked closely with the Social Responsibility and Inclusion team as it adjusted the process to increase the number of applications from eligible organizations from the states that had few applicants in the pool.  


PAA has made a concerted effort to document public art projects and engagements with existing public art collections in response to COVID-19. These collections will be available on the Public Art Archive website and aggregated into a specific, growing resource page for the field and allied fields. We have seen a great response from the field so far, and plan to significantly highlight the work of Mural Arts Philadelphia; Carson City; Lancaster, PA; Forecast Public Art; and Muros based out of Chicago. PAA is in the process of signing a new client, Lancaster Public Art, which will subscribe to the CMS and the Collection Showcase features.


As we continue to deal with cancellations, we’re also outlining the work that needs to be done for FY21 to address the needs of cancelled 2020 shows. This includes operational changes for contracts and payment options and system functionality changes that will better help with transparency regarding actual booth space availability at events. We’re also working on specs for an artist gallery, per show, that would act as a visual display of all the artists juried into an event. While common on show websites, this has become a higher priority because of the need to transform in-person events to virtual ones. As noted above, we’ve hired Kenneth Cho to lead our sales efforts for ZAPP and CaFE. He starts at WESTAF on June 1.

See you on Thursday!

With gratitude,