Lynne McCormack's Farewell Note to the City of Providence Office of Cultural Affairs
Editors note: This letter from October 14, 2015 that Lynne McCormack sent her colleagues and friends in the arts is being published with her permission here. She started her new position with LISC on October 16, and we wish her the best of luck in her latest role as an arts leader!
Dear friends and colleagues,
I'm writing you to share the news that tomorrow is my last day as the director of Art, Culture + Tourism for the City of Providence.
Today I write to thank you for all that we have accomplished together in re-creating Providence.
We are a collective of performers, artists, curators, government officials, non-profit leaders, thinkers and doers who believe that making a thriving place is the result of investing in its authentic assets. We are self confessed radicals, altruistic opportunists and change makers. We have all worked at the edge of our fields and woven straw into silk. Some of us have worked from the outside and pushed the limits of resources. Some of us have worked on the inside, raising provocative questions that erode the status quo. Together we have breathed in the dust of the past, and exhaled our souls into the city.
Each of us has a different perspective but we share the same core values. We believe that Providence has a unique human ecosystem. We believe that respect and connection are the starting point of the work. And that storytelling creates a shared vision for the future. We believe that by making no assumptions, solutions to complex problems emerge. And that by digging deep, the foundation will be strong and the work lasting.
I am grateful for being part of this circus show, this theater of impossible, this band of merry, mad men and women. It’s been an amazing 30 years, 18 of which I spent on the inside of government with people who may have appeared to be bureaucrats but were subversive change agents - getting things done with limited resources and passion that only brethren can truly understand.
I started working in the Parks Department, Office of Cultural Affairs as a full time employee in January of 1998, under the wing of my collaborator and mentor Bob Rizzo. I learned how to make amazing things happen with limited resources and how to always put the artist at the center of the work. In 2003, Mayor Cicilline created the Department of Art, Culture + Tourism. Cliff Wood and I began with a robust agenda crafted by the community without resources to match. But we got to work and forged innovative partnerships, aggregated resources and worked strategically. Since 2006 I’ve had the privilege to lead an entrepreneurial local arts agency with the most dedicated, hard-working staff I will ever know. Thank you, Daryl Jett, Jenny Peek, Janine Schwartz and Deb Dormody for all your incredible service. And to Michael Christofaro, Lizzie Araujo and my amazing deputy director Stephanie Fortunato for their intrepid dedication, commitment and passion for Providence.
I’ve served five mayors who were arts champions, recognized with awards by the US Conference of Mayors and Americans for the Arts. I witnessed Mayor David Cicilline testifying in congress for increased funding to the NEA and Mayor Angel Taveras on the Bloomberg Foundation, Aspen Institute, CityLab panel talking eloquently about how the arts can develop stronger communities. And been proud to be a part of the team that realized Mayor Jorge O. Elorza's vision for a city wide arts festival.
In 2009 we completed the city’s first cultural plan. It was a complex, organic process, designed intentionally, to be driven by artists and tested by a committee of community leaders. Since then, our process has been analyzed by national thought leaders, presented at international conferences, lifted up as best practice, and incorporated into the city’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance.
Together, as a community, we’ve forged public/ private partnerships that have resulted in national grants and collaborations. We’ve changed the landscape of the city, created amazing festivals and supported countless events. Providence’s cutting edge, artist driven, artist owned developments were supported with tax stabilizations, federally subsidized loans and CDBG funds. Enlightened planning directors, economic development professionals and parks superintendents found innovative ways to provide artists with resources to improve neighborhoods and public space. Mayors and city council leaders came to understand these projects catalyze positive change and contribute to the well-being of our city.
The list above is not shared as an inventory of accomplishments, but rather a picture what have all built. The role of the department of Art, Culture + Tourism has not been that of a traditional local arts agency, but has been an arts based community development organization, forging connections across government and always having an open door to anyone with an idea. We’ve provided technical assistance and created connections that can only be seen by understanding the entire ecosystem of place. But all this could not be done without a strong community of support and a shared vision.
It has been an amazing privilege to have served this city of passionate people. As I embark on my next chapter as the national program director for Creative Placemaking at LISC, I will carry all you have taught me and reflect upon all our work together. I’m grateful to have been on this ride with you and even more importantly, for your love and support over the years.