New Directions

by Andrew Elias

IN THE NOVEMBER-DECEMBER ISSUE of Ft.Myers magazine we featured an interview with Gary Conley, the then newly appointed Executive Director of the AllIance for the Arts. The interview was conducted in early October, three weeks prior to publication. A few days after publication, to our surprise, we received a press release from the Alliance for the Arts announcing the appointment of Lydia Antunes Black as their new Executive Director.

I spoke with Lydia in late November about her new position as Executive Director at the Alliance for the Arts.

Andrew Elias: Congratulations on your new position.

Lydia Black: Thank you so much. I apologize it happened so inconveniently timing-wise for your article.

It was a little odd, but I can imagine how these things happen. How and why did it happen?

Well ,I obviously can’t discuss anything about the former director. I do know he resigned in October. I can say that I am very excited to serve the Alliance and its members.

How did you come to be considered and then chosen?

Earlier this year I expressed an interest in opportunities here—not in the Executive Director position—but was interested in getting involved, whether it be in grant writing and fund raising development, and was offered a position at that time. Unfortunately, because of circumstances with the folks I was currently employed with and my family schedule I could not accept the offer, which I’m actually excited that I didn’t because I think this worked out for the best for the both of us.

What is your background?

I have a Masters Degree in non-profit management with a wide variety of health services and arts organizations. It was a degree that allowed me to span the non-profit sector and didn’t pigeon-hole me in one area or the other, but I received valuable lessons in financial management, fiscal control, accountability, membership organization and development, administration and so forth so that was the educational experience.

Prior to coming to the Alliance I worked as Director of Non-Profit Management Programs for Eastern University in Washington, D.C.. I was able to work with folks from Habitat for Humanity, from the Museum of Modern Art, from voting organizations to food banks and homeless shelters—it was a wide variety of the sector.

Do you have any background in the arts?

My education background is solely in non-profit management. I do not have a background in museum management or arts education, but I have been involved with arts groups in the past and I’ve always had a love and appreciation for and have worked with a variety of local artists on peace gardens and community gardens, both the visual and culinary arts.

Do you have any idea why they chose you as the new Executive Director?

I think for where the Alliance is at is they really need someone who is a relationship builder, who knows the sector well. At a time when the economy is hurting all non-profits need someone with experience in fundraising and development who has experience bringing people to the table. In my opinion that includes both members of the Alliance and arts organizations in the surrounding community. I think both the organization and myself have a vision of that for the Alliance—rebuilding relationships in the community and building new relationships, growing the membership, being able to provide more opportunities for our members.

I do think they saw my management background as a strength and wanted to incorporate someone who has an appreciation and enjoys—and whom herself is a novice photographer. And I stress the word novice!

I certainly enjoy working with folks from a variety of different backgrounds and have an interest in the arts, making sure that the arts and culture are alive and well in Lee County.

What are your short term and long term plans for the Alliance?

I think a short-term plan for me and what I hope to do in the first 30-90 days is meet with arts organizations, meet with members, meet with folks who have a vested interest in the Alliance, who have been long time supporters, and hear them out and hear the history and hear where they’re looking at going—taking all that material and information and being able to provide leadership and vision for the organization. I’ve already started meeting with people who are involved in the community—some who may have their own organizations—to see how we can better come together as partners, how we can work together as a coalition sharing resources, sharing funding. I’m really interested in exploring how to help insure that the Alliance continues to remain in its function as the designated state’s art agency in Lee County and working with those organizations who have a similar vision and similar passion for arts and culture here.

One of the first two projects that I would like to see revived is the arts coalition, which is the partnership of local arts organizations where they come together and talk about issues of the day. I would like to see that revitalized.

The other big immediate project that we’re working on is the arts and attractions website, which would be the hub for folks to go to to find out what’s happening in this area be it gallery openings, exhibit openings, what’s going on at the local theatres, you name it—a place where everyone can go and have their resources and people can go to get updated information about members of the arts community, both performing and visual.

Those are the two projects—the arts coalition and the arts & attractions website—that are already in the works.

Do you see any particular challenge with the economy in free-fall limiting the amount of dollars for a lot of the nonprofits and arts groups and getting them to work together as opposed to sometimes having to compete?

Absolutely. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with that question. I think it’s so important for organizations to build partnerships, to build coalitions and share resources rather than compete for those resources. Lee County and the rest of the country has been severely affected by the economy and in particular non-profit organizations, where giving is significantly down. There are some initiatives we are exploring. The Alliance can be a resource for other arts organizations as well.

In January we’re hosting a lecture—the first part of a lecture series—about development in hard economic times, specifically for arts communities. We’re encouraging people to come to that. We’re hosting the speaker, we’re having a breakfast and we’re going to offer that to all of the organizations here in Lee County that would like to participate so we can come together and learn and figure out how we can create this partnership because we see in most of the foundations and government agencies that are giving grants now that they’re only giving grants and funding to organizations that have a clear prospective and have clear partnerships.

How do you like Southwest Florida?

I have been in Southwest Florida for the last two years so I’m not totally new. I had a baby here and worked for the Director of Development at the Renaissance Group.

Where are you from originally?

I’m from a little bit of everywhere and I’m not kidding when I say that. I was born in Rhode Island, I grew up in Brazil, I’ve lived in D.C., Philadelphia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Maryland. My parents suffered from wanderlust.

Any way we can help? We’ve been publishing since 2002 and have been working with the Alliance to help promote their activities and all the arts throughout the area, both with the magazine and on our website.

Let me thank you for your continued support of the Alliance. It’s certainly appreciated and I hope that we can continue the relationship. Thanks so much for your support. •

from the January-February 2009 issue

"I think it's so important for organizations to build partnerships, to build coalitions and share resources rather than compete for those resources."