Local Arts Agency Roundtable: A Conversation with Nicole Mullet

Posted by Ms. Nicole Mullet, Apr 15, 2020 0 comments

In 2012, the GAR Foundation and Knight Foundation launched the Summit County Arts and Culture Initiative to better understand the strengths, challenges, relevance, and opportunities for the arts sector of Summit County, Ohio. The initiative marked the first time this type of work was done for or with the arts sector in the greater Akron area. A diverse, multi-sector, 19-member steering committee oversaw the research phase, culminating in The Arts and Culture Assessment for Summit County, followed by an engagement phase including 250+ people from all walks of life.

As work progressed, it became evident a new organization was needed to meet the needs of Summit County, and in July 2015 ArtsNow was created to address the report’s findings and ensure the arts and culture sector is fully leveraged in finding solutions to community needs and moving the region forward. Nicole Mullet, executive director of ArtsNow, talked to us recently about the process and what the initiative discovered.

“What we saw in that final report,” said Mullet, “was that Summit County has many great assets upon which to build, but many assets are in jeopardy, with waning relevance to audiences and eroding financial stability. The business sector values a vibrant arts and culture scene as a key tool for talent attraction and retention, and yet businesses feel disconnected from the arts. Similarly, consumers must work too hard to find arts and culture offerings. Essentially, there was no ‘glue’ holding the arts together as a high-functioning sector.”

The conversation with Mullet continues below.

What was the process of creating a new arts organization like?

ArtsNow was created through a collaborative and community-driven process. That remains our organization’s hallmark; collaboration is core to the work we do. Being a small staff requires that we collaborate and share resources to serve our community. But we also believe that an inclusive and authentic process garners the best results and most significant impact. The arts and culture sector is threaded throughout healthy communities and we partner accordingly. We allow the community to drive collaboration and convening and bring people together around opportunities and needs identified by our partners.

How would you describe your current status?

We are moving out of the start-up phase and into rapid and responsive growth.  How we advance Summit County and resource the work appropriately is front and center every day.

What’s on the horizon?

We’re focusing on sector growth, collaboration, and organizational structure, but also pivoting due to the COVID-19 crisis. There is so much strength in our county's cultural sector, but the financial ecosystem is fragile. Our current priorities include supporting the health and safety of our community; providing local artists and organizations with accurate, timely information; and ensuring our community knows the arts and culture are here to help during the crisis and during the recovery. As local arts agencies, we must lean on our colleagues regionally and nationally to support, resource, and advocate for our communities thoughtfully and with an eye on the health and safety of all.

What words of wisdom would you offer others looking to create an arts agency in their community?

Lean on the network Americans for the Arts provides!  You can feel very alone in the early days, but you are valuable, and you are not without support. Leverage ArtsU, use the member listserv, and reach out to colleagues nationally. We are all in this together and you have a bench of support ready and willing to help you navigate this work.

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