There is no instruction manual for leading a nonprofit during a pandemic. There is no professional development workshop, no online tutorial and no expert you can go to who could have prepared any of us for what has transpired over the last five months.
It has led to moments of uncertainty, doubt, fear, and disappointment. To say COVID-19 ripped the rug out from underneath all of us in the arts would be an understatement.
I’ve talked to dozens of artists, many of whom I consider friends, who have lost work that they were counting on, not just for themselves, but for their families.
Leaders of cultural nonprofits on the Cape were forced to make the very difficult decision to furlough or layoff staff in order to save their organizations. The day I had to give that news to my colleagues was the worst of my professional career; thankfully, a PPP loan enabled us to bring back most of our staff.
At the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod (AFCC), our 2020 strategic plan, operating budget, and fundraising strategy were all thrown out the window.
One thing didn’t change – our commitment to our mission to support, promote and celebrate arts and culture on Cape Cod in order to sustain a vibrant, diverse, and strong community.
To achieve this, we knew our constituents – Cape artists and cultural organizations – needed funding and resources immediately. So we launched the Cape Cod Arts Relief Fund to provide one-time emergency funding to creatives who have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
While we were able to give mini-grants to more than 70 artists, we received more than 200 requests for assistance. The need is great, and we anticipate it will only continue to grow.
We have set our sights on raising more than $100,000 for the fund, and we are more than halfway there. Our next round of funding will go to assisting cultural nonprofits who desperately need our support to adapt to a new way of engaging with the public.
How we initially raised this money is a testament to the resiliency and adaptability of the arts. We witnessed this in the local, regional, and national artists who started performing virtually shortly after the quarantine was put into place.
We reached out to one, Boston musician Will Dailey, who suggested we “go big.” With nothing to lose, we took his advice and coordinated a three-day virtual festival, Home Is Where The Art Is, that raised nearly $30,000 for the relief fund; it has had over 100,000 views to date on Facebook; and featured musician G. Love, filmmaker Amy Jo Johnson, author Lauren Wolk, singer-songwriter Tianna Esperanza, musician Adam Ezra, Will Dailey and many of the region’s top artists.
We took a leap of faith – none of us had ever organized a virtual arts festival before – and the results far exceeded our expectations. What made the event a success? We curated a wonderful assortment of artists who represented different mediums but shared one thing in common – they wanted to use their talents to give back.
That is the true power of the arts. They offer avenues for us to come together, lift each other up, and heal in moments like we’re in right now. Our organization had only one option in March: we had to shift our strategy and utilize the resources we had to our advantage.
We have embraced technology – Zoom, email and social media – to push out our messaging and use as a new forum for our events. Since Home Is Where The Art Is, we’ve partnered with TD Bank to hold our annual Summer Concert Series virtually every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. and Sunday morning at 11 a.m. on the AFCC’s Facebook page.
While our in-person auction in June was cancelled, we’re now holding a virtual silent auction through Sunday, Aug. 9. We have moved our biggest fundraiser of the year, the Citizens Bank Pops by the Sea, online. You can watch it live on our website, www.artsfoundation.org, on Sunday, Aug 9, at 6 p.m.
None of this would be possible without a team-oriented culture at the AFCC that is transparent, inclusive, philanthropic and dedicated to the one thing that the pandemic cannot touch – our mission.
Each member of our team is passionate about our work and we have fun doing it. Throughout my professional career, I’ve placed an emphasis on laughter as a mechanism for creating an atmosphere that is welcoming and which ultimately leads to productivity. It’s a simple philosophy, but if you like coming to work, you’ll show a dedication to your job, no matter the circumstances.
This year, those circumstances have been tougher than ever, and my team has demonstrated just how passionate and committed they are to ensuring the arts remain a critical part of Cape Cod’s landscape.
Despite its difficulties, this year has drawn me closer to my colleagues while reminding me just how important the arts are to our community.
It has also led to moments of joy, confidence-building, adventure and satisfaction.
Yes, we’ve all been challenged like never before, but the one thing I’ve learned through all of this is you need courage, conviction and a commitment that the work you’re doing matters more than ever before. For us, the arts depend on it.
Julie Wake is executive director of the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod. For more information, visit www.Arts Foundation.org