Imperative for Continued Office of the Arts Leadership

There has been some confusion and misinformation this week about the recently announced job posting for an Arts and Culture Administrator at the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). The Connecticut Arts Alliance, a non-profit advocacy organization led by artists, educators, and arts executives from all over our state, would like to clarify some details about this position and its importance to the creative sector in our state.

Up until a year ago, the person in this position had been appointed by the Governor, which has historically created inconsistencies with each selection or change of administration and politicization of the position. DECD corrected this problem last year by classifying (making permanent) the position with a clear job description and specific qualifications to oversee the Office of the Arts and State Historic Preservation Office. Kristina Newman-Scott, originally appointed by Governor Malloy in 2015 and often referred to as the Director of Culture, was hired for this permanent position.

DECD is simply rehiring for this job, which has been vacant since early summer when Newman-Scott left the position, as they would for any other vacancy in the department. This is not a political appointment and the job has specific criteria, which is why they are conducting a national search to secure the very best applicants to serve our state.

The Connecticut Arts Alliance has worked with many different leaders at DECD’s Office of the Arts over the last 15 years. During that time, the state arts agency has been periodically stalled from realizing its full potential for both the state and for the arts sector because of the frequent changes in leadership and inconsistent knowledge of and experience in the cultural sector. We need to maintain the status of this leadership position to ensure that our relationships with the federal government and many other state and local partners continue unimpeded, as well as to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency.

This position is dedicated to the long term, rather than the duration of a political appointment. At long last, Connecticut can have consistent cultural leadership with the required expertise to carry forward strategic initiatives and reinforce the agency’s very capable team. With this position in place, we now suffer fewer unnecessary delays in the progress and impact that the Office of the Arts could have for the state. Having this leadership position filled as a permanent, classified post will stop the practice of unintentional derailment of the agency by political appointees who do not have the experience or expertise or the commitment to the long-term.

For those who wonder—why does this position exist at all? If you are an artist, involved with an arts or cultural organization, or enjoy experiencing creative events in your community, then you know the importance of the Director of Culture to oversee our industry in state government and harness the power of the arts to educate the next generation, build vibrant communities, and attract and retain employers and residents.

If you are not a believer, then consider first that the nonprofits arts and cultural sector in Connecticut is an $800 million industry that supports over 23,000 jobs statewide. Next, this position for the Office of the Arts, together with those of Historic Preservation and the four museums, manages millions in federal and state funding and has critical oversight and responsibility for regulatory functions. This position leverages nearly $1 million in matching grants from the National Endowment for the Arts for statewide grantmaking and programs, which are guided by a formal strategic plan. Overall, strong leadership at the Office of the Arts helps to catalyze investment from the business and donor community, promote collaboration with other areas of government, particularly education and tourism, and ensure accountability and efficiency.

With the facts about and importance of this position now clear, the Connecticut Arts Alliance hopes that DECD will secure the best candidate possible as soon as possible for our next Director of Culture. It is important to maintain consistency in a sector that is one of Connecticut’s strengths and a solution to—not part of—Connecticut’s economic problems. Let’s not re-break what has already been fixed.

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