Shattering news for the Art Association that its most recent executive director, Nick Van Hevelingen, has walked. When an organization of the size and complexity of the Art Association—still the Center for the Arts’ most significant tenant in terms of square footage—loses two new executive directors in such short order, it’s safe to assume internal conflict exists. Unfortunately, the Art Association isn’t the only local non-profit grappling with leadership and staffing issues.
My first impression of Van Hevelingen was that he was a natty dresser. Pressed and sharp, his business experience and pedigrees surely impressed board members. I was impressed. My first conversation with Van Hevelingen was surprising, because he openly discussed his frustrations. Pacing the room, he fiddled with connections and hook-ups on his computer. He produced a folder thick as a New York City phone book; that folder was full of research and plans to restore Glenwood Street’s Western Motel. The idea was to renovate the hotel’s single floor annex, clean up the hotel rooms and facilities and turn the building into artists studios. I and a friend had come to talk about the Art Association becoming the anchor group for a public-art-in-store-windows initiative. He liked the idea, and said that insuring such a project would be relatively easy, but that he and staff would not be able to do the footwork of canvassing Town Square commercial real estate owners. Fair enough.
Travis Walker compiled the research in that folder. The Western Hotel project never happened, for the reason most projects-in-waiting don’t happen. No money. It seems Van Hevelingen hoped funding would come from a source other than the Art Association; the emperor had no clothes. Walker’s group backed off. Too bad, because reviving that space and bringing artists back downtown would help connect the Center for the Arts to Jackson’s Town Center. Visitors would be able to see artists as they worked. And those visitors would walk across the street to the Center and experience the Art Association’s superb gallery space and exhibitions.
It’s curious that despite strong suggestions from Jackson’s most prominent industry consultants that local non-profits consider consolidating, almost nobody has done it. Why?
The answer can only be ego. And it’s so past time to get over that.
Until our economy improves, non-profits should actively look for ways to hook up to solve common issues. Walker’s Factory Studios now provides affordable space for a large number of Jackson’s contemporary artists. But there is high demand for more space. Wouldn’t the ideal be to have those artists back downtown, making art that could be displayed in town? We should think of Jackson’s cultural health as a whole, not as individual entities fighting for dominance. The Art Association has traditionally been Jackson’s power contemporary arts hub. Many young artists got their start there. That’s changing, much as the world’s economic balance has changed.
Let’s think globally, locally. Our non-profits are countries whose fortunes are changing; creative groups barely on the map a few years ago now provide sustainable solutions and venues. Until recently, Germany‘s economy was troubled. Now the country is an economic model and much of the world would love to use its credit cards.
At September’s United Nations General Assembly, driven by national political agendas, the United States attempted to block a Palestine bid to gain U.N. membership. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, an underdog on the world stage, forcefully broke with the Obama administration and proposed a compromise: enhance Palestine’s status to that of an observer state.
“This would be an important step forward,” Sarkozy said. “Most important, it would mean emerging from a state of immobility that favors only the extremists.”
It’s not the size of your sign anymore; it’s innovation that counts. You may be an activist non-profit; you may be a “get it on the ground” organization. If you share a “big picture” cause with other groups, don’t isolate; seek strength by finding ways to come together.