A Letter From the Chair of Americans for the Arts

Posted by Julie C. Muraco, Jun 07, 2021 0 comments

To all of those who champion and fight for the arts and cultural community in the United States; To all our members, our funders, our partners, and patrons who have generously supported Americans for the Arts; To the artists and arts professionals whom we represent:

I have read your letters and comments over these last months as Americans for the Arts has faced challenges. Both I and other board members have talked with many of you directly. We have engaged thought leaders in the field for advice and wisdom as our organization grapples with dramatic change sweeping through society and our sector. We are committed to continuing this dialogue so that we can work together to find an equitable and sustainable future for Americans for the Arts. It would be easy to make incremental changes, but in order to catch up to the future, we know that what is now required is transformation.

When allegations were made against our organization and its leadership last December, the board acted swiftly to respond. We hired independent counsel and third-party consultants and while awaiting the results of those investigations, we promptly began a four-step process preparing outcome scenarios (assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation). We wanted to prepare for the findings of those investigations so that we could assess the facts, determine options available to Americans for the Arts, and then act accordingly in the best interests of our varied constituents including our own staff, members, and the field. The board received the results of the assessments a little over one week ago.

Some of our constituents are demanding the release of detailed information about the independent investigations. As those who have fiduciary responsibilities in governing any organization know, legal investigations are privileged and confidential and we are not able to share their findings. Other reviews are still in progress, particularly around DEI. Most important now, is what we do with the information we have received. It is the work ahead that we are committed to sharing with all of those who care so deeply about the arts.

Some of you have asked for more information about recent personnel changes. Our board, after weighing all the facts, including assessments from the field, had to make very difficult decisions regarding the entire organization. The board, collectively, took this moment in time to recognize that the best decision was to embrace change. We recognized that society, the field and our own organization was at an inflection point, and we chose the path forward.

Bob Lynch was extraordinary in his devotion to and passion for the arts in America. He is someone who deserves our respect and admiration for his long and storied career at Americans for the Arts and in the advocacy of the arts, generally. He worked tirelessly for more than 36 years with a focus of expanding access to the arts for all Americans. That was his vision, and he built Americans for the Arts into the powerful organization it is today.

Americans for the Arts’ path will be one of transformational change—acknowledging our successes, but with freedom to rethink how we move into the future. That kind of change requires the board to take the time to be thoughtful, deliberate, consultative, and forward looking as we examine our organizational structure and strategy. Recognizing that we needed a leader to work effectively with us on the internal challenges, the board elected Ret. Brigadier General Nolen Bivens to serve as President & CEO. Nolen was elected to serve as the transitional leader as Americans for the Arts moves from the Assessment to the Planning phase of operational change.

Nolen is an expert in organizational strategy, in organizational structure and in guiding institutions through cultural change. He has led and conducted more than 15 organizations through successful transitions. Nolen has been serving as interim CEO for six months and has come to know our people and operations. He is in position to help us analyze its strengths and weaknesses and in this regard, he is uniquely qualified to assist the board through the next phase of transformation. Before taking on this new role, Nolen, an emeritus board member of Americans for the Arts, was instrumental in many key initiatives in the arts and is known by many of you through his work in the field, particularly in Arts & Health in the Military.

We expect our Planning phase to position Americans for the Arts for an evolving social environment and for increased impact and relevance in a world that is rapidly changing. To that end, we initiated the 2022 Strategic Planning process immediately at the conclusion of the investigations. This process will include board, staff, thought leaders both in the arts field and outside of the field. The process will take at least the next six months, as we determine what it is we do best, and conversely, recognize where we may fall short, and others may do better. We will be taking the time to examine our core strengths and make plans to evolve the organization to meet tomorrow’s needs. We are committed to Americans for the Arts’ position as a thought leader and national service organization, meeting a heightened standard of excellence to best serve our diverse constituents.

As we move forward, we need thoughtful engagement from our core members, partners, and collaborators to make this happen. You are important to this organization, and we need your constructive voice. As we pursue this self-critical process, we ask for your patience and understanding. We hope you will help and commit to being a part of this journey.

On behalf of our entire board, we sincerely appreciate the many individuals and organizations who have offered constructive criticism and strong support for Americans for the Arts through this very challenging time. We understand that this feedback is motivated by your recognition of the importance of the work that we do. We are especially grateful to those who have recognized the extraordinary efforts of our staff through this year.

We thank you so very much. We look forward to the next months of reimagining Americans for the Arts to serve the field and all our constituents as our best and highest self.

On behalf of my fellow members of the Board of Directors,
Julie Muraco, Chair

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