While I feel inclined to say that, as an arts writer, I'm aware of pressing issues within the arts community because it's my job, I must admit I'm mostly aware of these said issues because I sit on arts boards.
Almost every arts organization in this city is a non-profit society, legally governed by the provincial registry to operate by a volunteer board of directors. From the small chapter of cooperative artists working out of their garage to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, every non-profit organization has a board of directors that has to legally meet and be held accountable for the activities and operation of the organization. While the weight and responsibility of being on a board is less than desired by most individuals, especially artists with full-time jobs, this weight is also the leverage one needs to actively and convincingly push for the change we need.
A public arts board is created for public benefit, but the public itself needs to know it can get involved. This may be the most important part, as we have all have at one point passionately or vehemently lamented the situation of the arts and why arts organizations do this and why they do that. If you ever wonder where all the money goes, and why, become a member.
Most non-profit organizations function by maintaining a pool of general members, that anyone (and I mean anyone) can join for a relatively small fee, and as a member, you may and should attend an organization’s annual general meeting, about which they must legally inform its membership—usually with ample notice, depending on their bylaws. This is the easiest way to check into an organization, as their operating documents from their bylaws, financial statements, policies and staff reports must be held accountable to their membership. If they're not, then they're not functioning legally or ethically, and their status as an organization to receive operating funds and endowments needs to be called into question and reconsidered by their members and their funders.
In the past two weeks, I’ve attended two annual general meetings for arts organizations in this city. As a general member for both of these organizations, I felt inclined to exercise my right to check in on the status and direction of the organizations at hand. While change doesn’t happen overnight, it is absolutely necessary to understand how something works before you get involved on any level.
When I was asked to join my first board, I politely declined. Board meetings can be bored meetings, and I didn’t wholly appreciate the babble of bureaucracy, but as I became increasingly invested in the activities of an organization, I needed to invest some time and energy into understanding how they function. I can only encourage others to do the same, as it is your right and the majority’s right to make things better for yourself and for your community.
*First published in Vue Weekly, June 25, 2009
- A.F. Edmonton