Mary Ann Piacentini (above) takes on a demanding job as CACH's new head, replacing her former boss, John Blaine.
artists working with a variety of art forms.
There is a fiber art wall hanging, there
will be two interior wall murals, an exterior wall mural, two sculptures and a photography exhibit.
SH: Will these be distributed throughout
MP: Yes. There is a limitation in the sense
that they all have to be Community Development Neighborhood Strategy areas.
But there are 23 of those within the city.
These are the projects that are closest
to my heart.
I have also been involved in providing
services to the CACH membership and to
the arts organizations. I think one important thing both John and I did, but with
the very great assistance of independent
experts in the field (the subpanelists), was
to develop a fair process for distributing
funds to smaller organizations and to organizations who do special projects.
While the system is not perfect, and
has sometimes been accused of being almost too flexible, that flexibility has
been a key to its success. Because if an
organization doesn't feel it has been
locked into a specific area, it feels as if it
has the chance to come in and say,
"Look, this is a project we feel is very
important to our development. Is it something you think you can fund?" And instead of the staff saying no or yes, the
subpanels can ask the group to demonstrate that the project fits our guidelines.
SH: Could you be more specific about
these? Who is eligible to apply for assistance from CACH?
MP: The only strict guidelines we have
are that we won't fund anything retroactively and we do look for cash matches.
It's very important to match money
they're requesting from us with real, hard
money, not just with in-kind services or
donated materials. The projects funded
through us must also be accessible to the
public, not geared to a small group.
SH: How do the smaller organizations
funded through your grant cycles compare to the 10 majors in terms of competition for funds? What are the priorities in
MP: It's difficult to answer that. In terms
of funding, our support of the smaller
institutions is probably far more important than the money is to the majors. The
money is regular and consistent to the
majors, and I think that helps them a
great deal. They provide an incredible
amount of the arts and cultural programming in the city. They are important
to us, but they don't need us on a day-today basis. In working with them we have
to deal with the basic issues, like how to
find more support for the arts.
But with the smaller institutions, we
have certainly not provided all the services they need yet. Still we have been a
really incredible boon. They know they
can come to us and they can get a pretty
I think that's largely because of the
subpanel system. These groups are reviewed by their own peerj, not by the
Arts Council staff. That's really important because I would never, never dare
suggest that I am an expert in the visual
arts, in music, or theater.
But I know that the people who have
been selected to be subpanelists have
managed to work incredibly effectively.
You can't say they're totally objective.
But they do try to go out and see the
people who are applying for grants. They
give them the benefit of the doubt when
there is a question or concern about
them. They help them rewrite applications if necessary. I think that has been
really our strongest suit, providing them
with these services.
Also, we've been able to help them
leverage money. When we give a $5,000
grant, it's not just $5,000 we give them.
What we give them is credibility in the
community-they can say, "The Arts
Council believes in me, you should believe in me too."
We have also showed them they
shouldn't just depend on the Arts Council
for funding. As more organizations become aware of the funds available, competition will get keener, so that fewer
dollars can be allocated to any one institution. One of the things we've been
trying to say is that they need to look
for other money. We can help find out
what's available on the federal or state
level, but they have to find the private
SH: How do you view your personal role
in working with the smaller organizations?
MP: You know, this is really exciting to
me. I used to think that I would want to
think up all the ideas myself and implement those programs. But that's not at all
true anymore. I'm finding that some of
those organizations, or their representatives, have really wonderful ideas.
SH: So you see yourself now as primarily a facilitator?
MP: Well, it really is enlightening, first to
hear their ideas, and second to help implement them. For instance, some of the
smaller organizations have come up with
the idea for having a combined arts campaign for small organizations, similar to
the one the major institutions use. They
will band together and go knock on the
doors of smaller corporations and say to
those top executives, "Hey look, we
know you can't give $50,000 to the opera
or to the ballet, but could you give
.$5,000 to a smaller organization? Could
you adopt a smaller organization?" And
that notion is really exciting. Helping
them use the technical skills and organizational skills of the combined arts campaign the majors have used is wonderful.
SH: To change the subject a bit, CACH
has recently been involved in discussion
aimed at establishing a voucher system
for the arts similar to the ones in New
York City, Boston and Minneapolis.
Could you explain a little more about
MP: Well, there is probably going to be a
lot of activity to provide discounted tickets to special populations like the elderly,
low-income residents, students, union
people, that kind of thing. What CACH
did was respond to a request and get
people down here to talk about the voucher system. We only provided access to
experts in the field. And it's nice to see
that something is actually being done.
Those people are meeting, they're keeping us informed, and it looks as if there
might actually be a voucher system.
SH: As director of CACH, are there any
major changes you would like to make?
In what direction is CACH heading over
the next year?
MP: I think we need to catch up on some
things, things we've promised and begun
to deliver, but want to deliver in a much
more competent manner. I think there
are some things we have not emphasized
enough. One is long range planning. We
are no longer a young enough agency to
always deal in crisis management.
I hope we will become more aggressive
about other funding sources, that we will
not continue to rely completely on the
hotel-motel tax, that we will begin to
look to other agencies.
Also, I think my board has already
expressed interest in looking at other
funds that may be channelled to the Municipal Arts Commission to provide more
support for individual artists.
So I think what I want to do in the
next few months is get the Arts Council
organized so that we deal with routine
matters in a very routine manner. Then
we can begin to present to the board in
a very deliberate way the programs we
hope to implement.