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Elevator Chat: John Schratwieser, Executive Director, Maryland Citizens for the Arts

Elevator Chat: John Schratwieser, Executive Director, Maryland Citizens for the Arts

September 02, 2015Arts Across Maryland

This October, Maryland Citizens for Art’s (MCA) will present their fourth annual ArtsLAB, This year's theme is “Community Engagement: Roles and Responsibilities of Publicly Funded Arts Organizations." ArtsLAB is on Tuesday, October 27, 2015, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown. Registration will open September 9, 2015.

MSAC: How many years has MCA been hosting ArtsLAB? Whose brainchild was the conference?

John Schratwieser: ArtsLAB began in the fall of 2012.  Before that, MCA had always added a professional development component to Maryland Arts Day.  MCA realized that this small program, added on to an already very busy advocacy day, was not a benefit to our advocates.  We agreed to separate the two events and in September 2012, launched ArtsLAB, a full day capacity building conversation for arts professionals.

MSAC: This year, Maryland Citizens for the Arts (MCA) chose a theme of Community Engagement: Roles and Responsibilities of Publicly Funded Arts Organizations for the 2015 ArtsLAB. Why did MCA choose this topic?

John Schratwieser: The organizational and individual members of MCA are all recipients of operating or program grants from the State.  MCA's job is to advocate for those public funds - which are, of course, then awarded through competitive grant process, by the Maryland state Arts Council.  As such, we see these investments as a bestowing of public trust.  Grantees work hard to use these funds in a way that is beneficial to the communities we serve. 

We believe that by expanding the conversation now about our (the nonprofit arts sector's) role in serving our constituents, and our responsibility to be good stewards of this public trust, we can strengthen the message to lawmakers and citizens. This investment in the arts is not only worth it, but it is indeed critical to the success of building a stronger Maryland. 

The arts are a $1 billion industry in Maryland, and the sector returns more than 3:1 on these funds in local and state tax revenue, but even more than that, our organizations are out there, day in and day out meeting the needs of communities. Continuing to provide access to arts and culture, and making our great state an even better place to work and live. 

MSAC: Explain what ArtsLAB day is like and what MCA hopes to accomplish by day’s end.

John Schratwieser: The day is less of a formal conference, and more of a conversation.  MCA is not proposing a series of answers to tough questions; folks do not come in, get talked at, get handed a sheet of paper with five quick fixes and leave. 

No, ArtsLAB is just that, a laboratory for testing ideas and solutions; for learning from our peers, and for communicating with each other about the value we bring, and ways we can raise the bar for the arts. 

We begin with three or four presentations by Maryland arts practitioners who are doing work related to our theme, so this year it will be people who are doing bold, creative community engagement projects (both inside and outside the "walls" of our arts institutions.)  An interactive panel discussion follows, where attendees will have the chance to ask questions. 

The group breaks for lunch and then divides into smaller discussion groups with a specific task/outcome for participants to work on, re-convenes for a report-back conversation, and next-steps wrap-up.  We encourage organizations to send three people from various levels, departments within the organization, including trustees, so that when ArtsLAB is over, these three can take ideas and new practices back to their organization and encourage action on new ways of reaching out to serve the citizens of Maryland.

MCA created ArtsLAB to provide space for the nonprofit arts sector to come together to address concerns facing our field. Learn more.