(Continued from Part 1 posted earlier this week)
Process: Constituency Research Yields Insight
As we surveyed our situation, we knew our approach could not be a typical strategic planning process. Board and staff discussion charted an outside-in strategy for data gathering. Our selected consultant was a branding, PR, and market research firm whose representatives reminded us from the beginning that “it doesn’t matter what you think. What matters is what your customer – the community – thinks.”
With the potential for change to be significant, it was essential that the United Arts Council of Greensboro (UAC) communicate openly, early, and often to the constituents who relied on our funding, as well as their core audiences and supporters. For some agencies,our investment comprised as much as 20 percent of their contributed revenue. Regardless of the percentage, the resource was critical; we wanted to mitigate negative impact while giving historically funded agencies ample lead time for planning and preparation.
Our consultant set the stage and tone with us, our member groups, and area artists from the beginning: Be open to new information, ideas, and the realization that things are going to change. Signs were clear that our current model was no longer effective or sustainable. And with some preliminary data, our consultant painted a picture early on that revealed how radical the change could be.
We needed to hear directly from our customers to understand how they perceived the UAC and the arts overall. From their perspective, what is it that the UAC does? What should we be doing? What should we support and nurture? We wanted to know where they experienced art in their daily lives – what events and facilities they attended, supported, and participated in. What makes our community unique from a cultural perspective? What role does art have in educating our children, in making us more balanced, healthier human beings? And, from their personal perspective, what is art?
A list of questions and various survey tools were developed and distributed to thousands of Greensboro residents through focus groups, service clubs, and other outlets including the media, local events, libraries, neighborhoods, community centers, and faith organizations. Roughly 2,000 individuals responded, representing a broad cross-section and solid representative sample of the people in our community. We coupled our data with results from a recent Arts and Economic Impact Study we conducted of our region in tandem with Americans for the Arts, providing us with broad and dynamic feedback.
We categorized our findings into the following focus areas:
- Foster education of our children through the arts.
- Position Greensboro as a cultural destination.
- Serve and engage our diverse community through the arts.
Creative Solution: Focus and Maximize Resources
Clearly, we gained a new level of awareness and understanding our community. Survey and study results revealed a number of areas in which we were missing the mark, and helped us see opportunities for needed change:
- While we stated that we were the community’s United Arts Council, we were not reaching and engaging our diverse population nor investing in the organizations and artists more likely to deliver programming to these citizens.
- Incorporating the arts more fully into the education of our young people surfaced as a top priority of survey respondents, yet as an Arts Council, we had not focused a great deal on how we could partner proactively with our local educational institutions.
- While peer cities attract tourists to local cultural events and activities, it was clear that Greensboro’s arts agencies were missing a key positioning opportunity.
Board and staff, together with community residents involved in each of the focus areas – education, cultural tourism, and diversity – worked together to determine how best to incorporate the feedback into charting a new course. We began to define action steps to take us from where we were currently to where we desired to be. Change to this degree wouldn’t happen overnight, so we began to shape a three-year program of work. Our implementation would be an evolution, allowing for continual refinement as we executed tactics. And we directed resources – financial, human, and other – across our entire business operation to advance our three focus areas.