An Interview with Jacquie Atchison, Executive Director of The Arts Council for Monterey County
In this interview, Madison McAleese, Consultant, chats with Jacquie Atchison, Executive Director of The Arts Council for Monterey County (Arts4MC). Arts4MC aims to improve the quality of life for everyone in the region through the arts. The organization provides visual and performing arts education programs, arts as healing programs, and funding and support for local artists and cultural organizations. When the pandemic hit, the organization quickly converted its arts education programs to digital and created an Artist Spotlight program to keep the arts alive in the community. Despite the pandemic’s impact, the organization expanded its budget and increased its arts education programs by 50% for the school year 22-23. The organization managed to achieve strategic success by effectively managing relationships with staff and the board.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your organization – what is the mission of the Arts Council for Monterey County?
I’ve been with Arts4MC since 2015, serving as the Deputy Director and then the Executive Director in 2020, right as the pandemic hit! I have been in nonprofit leadership for over twenty-five years.
The mission of the Arts Council for Monterey County (Arts4MC) is to improve the quality of life for everyone in our region through the arts.
Several local artists and advocates created the Council in 1982 as part of a nationwide movement powered by the National Endowment for the Arts, “to develop and assist art and cultural programs, and to promote the employment of artists within the county.”
We provide enriching visual and performing arts education programs, specialized arts as healing programs and funding and support for local artists, arts nonprofits and cultural organizations.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work? What adaptations needed to be made?
Our last day of programming was Friday, March 13, 2020 and the staff started working from home the following Monday. We quickly converted our arts education programs to digital by having our professional teaching artists record their art lessons and posting them on our website and YouTube making them accessible to everyone. We also created an Artist Spotlight program featuring a different artist or arts organization, every week, live on Facebook, to keep the arts alive in our community.
The arts sector was the hardest sector hit by the pandemic- the first to close, and last to open. Museums, theaters, galleries, studios were shuttered; events and festivals canceled, arts education programs halted due to school closures for the remainder of the 19-20 school year.
You’ve expanded your budget significantly and grown sustainably, even despite the pandemic. How did you manage to see such success during the past few years?
We were very fortunate to receive two PPP loans which were both forgiven, the ERTC and a CA Performing Arts Grant, which all went to keeping our staff working during the shelter in place. When schools opened back, even virtually for the next year, we were able to bring more programs to the schools and community partners.
For the school year 22-23, we increased our arts education programs by 50%, which is earned revenue.
How have you effectively managed your relationships with staff and the board? How have you worked together to achieve strategic success?
Many of our board were recruited during the pandemic as former board members termed off. The Board Chair and I both joined Joan Garry’s Nonprofit Leadership Lab and shared many articles and videos with the new board members, in addition to supplying her book to all, which was read out loud during board meetings. Most of these board members did not meet each other in person until our first in-person meeting in May 2022.
For the board, I created an email procedure to keep them involved and engaged -the subject line starts with ACTION: plus subject for those items that need immediate attention and response. INFO: plus subject was for informational purposes only which they could read at their leisure.
The staff worked well together during the shelter in place using text, chat, email and Zoom. Weekly Zoom staff meetings during the SIP kept us connected. When the SIP was lifted in June 2021, many of us returned to the office. I made it clear that we are a very flexible organization and they are all welcomed to work for home. But almost everyone wanted to come in the office – I think they missed the comradery of the team.
What are some leadership lessons you’ve learned along the way? What advice would you give to other leaders?
Patience! In August 2021 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. A good friend who had also experienced breast cancer, told me early on – “take it one day at a time.” That really helped me to continue working through my treatment and keeping my sense of humor intact during difficult days.
I would advise other leaders to take care of themselves and their staff, physically and emotionally. We’ve all been through a rough few years and need time to process and heal.
Is there any current work or new projects you’d like to highlight for our readers?
In 2022 we launched our inaugural Monterey County Poet Laureate.
In April 2023, we will announce on inaugural Monterey County YOUTH Poet Laureate.
Social-emotional learning is vital at this time. We sent one of our lead teaching artists through a certification program with UCL&Arts and Healing, and she has since trained several of our other teaching artists and local school teachers.