There’s no skirting around it: the last few months have been difficult and uncertain.
But as well as the instinctual survival mode that we have all been forced into, for myself—and many of you that I’ve spoken to—there have been little windows for reflection: for thinking about what we do, and why we do it (both personally and professionally).
For me personally, this manifested in thinking about my role as a consumer and making a true effort to shop local to support small businesses. For my furloughed flatmate, this meant applying to volunteer at a food bank, already overwhelmed by applications.
For A&B, this meant repurposing Investment Programme funds to pay artists and arts organisations. They were then able to produce remote engagement products that they could sell to businesses, at a time when creative partnerships felt impossible.
And we weren’t the only ones – Tinderbox gave their Repose soundscape to the Belfast Trust to help the wellbeing of essential workers; Arts Care provided art boxes for older people in residential care and for children across healthcare services; Theatre & Dance NI launched an enhanced Membership Assistance Programme with Spectrum Life to make wellbeing support more accessible. And that’s only a few of the amazing examples!
Still with me? I’ll get to the point.
People are thinking more about what they do, and why they do it; they are looking for ways to contribute to their communities, to support what they care about, where they care about it; they are looking for ways to use their skills to do this. So now could be a perfect time to recruit skilled, passionate individuals to join your board, right?
But how do we harness that willingness to give?
We have been talking a lot about values. Outside of your skills audits and representation targets (both extremely important), it is vital that the people who have a say in your organisation care about what you do, and why you do it. If they don’t, regardless of whatever valuable skill they possess, will they make the boat go faster?
Through this pandemic we are all looking inward at our mission and purpose when thinking about adapting our plans, models, and means of delivery; but it’s also worth taking the time to reflect on if we have the right foundations to make these changes. Do you have board members with the right skills to support you through them, along with enough passion and understanding about what you do, and why you do it, to know that change is needed?
And that’s where we come in.
Our Board Matching Programme aims to tick both these boxes. We recruit skilled professionals onto both our Young Professionals and Board Bank training, but we ensure that those selected also have a true enthusiasm for the arts and the motivation to make a difference on an Arts Board.
So how does this programme work in a global pandemic?
Sophie Hayles, CEO of the Crescent Arts Centre, and Cormac Maguire, Associate Architect at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, opened up about a board match we facilitated at the Crescent in June of this year – all while sitting at our own kitchen tables.
How did you find going through a board matching process in a pandemic?
Sophie: The Crescent started out in the process seeking a specific skill set. We required someone with high-level industry experience of capital programmes, a good knowledge of facilities management and an understanding of building design. We shared our requirements in-depth with the A&B NI team, who then started a process of facilitated conversations. In all honesty it was pretty straightforward; we made the ask, and A&B responded with questions and ideas – our hand was held.
Cormac: I made contact with the A&B Board Bank in August 2019. As lead of the office’s charity team for Feilden Clegg Bradley Studio Belfast I have organised numerous educational arts projects in collaboration with local arts organisations, as well as larger events such as the annual Open House Belfast architectural festival. I was interested in being actively engaged on a Board, and A&B NI talked me through the opportunities, and subsequently facilitated a series of meetings with The Crescent’s Chair to see if Board Membership might be a good fit. While matching my professional skill set and interest, it was great to also recognise a more personal connection to The Crescent as members of my family have both taught, and attended, courses and workshops in the building for many years.
Sophie: One of the things about Board Membership is that sometimes it’s as much about a clarity of expectations and personality match as it is skills and expertise. Cormac’s experience was outstanding, and the personal connection to The Crescent amazing. What the facilitated conversations also enabled us to do was to imagine that this might not work, and that would be absolutely ok too. (That’s not the end of this story but I think it’s important to recognise!)
How have you found bringing this new insight into your board, and what will this help you achieve?
Sophie: The Crescent is a listed building and a significant heritage asset in the Northern Ireland landscape. Our building will celebrate 150 years in 2023. To be custodians of a heritage asset is a welcome and serious challenge, that requires expertise and resources. The Crescent seeks increasingly to be a resource and a facility for the communities we serve and are home to. To do so effectively and confidently we need sustained investment in the building – financially and strategically. Expertise at Board level is part of this investment and commitment.
What would you say to anyone that is worried about making changes to their board at this time?
Sophie: I imagine that Board Members of most organisations change every 3-6 years/in accordance with policy. Change is in-built into Governance, and diverse insights from people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences is often what brings the most value. Given the conditions the sector operates in, I imagine the worries might be most about any resource required to make change. So I’d just want to make clear that this is a reassuringly simple process, really not too much admin involved, is very tailored to needs, and the outcome has the capacity to make a serious difference to your organisation. Register!
Arts & Business NI is generously supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.