Earlier this year, the Flagstaff Arts Council (FAC) became the first of four cultural organizations to hire new leadership, along with Theatrikos, the Flagstaff Symphony and the Museum of Northern Arizona. We talked with FAC Executive Jonathan Stone about his first impressions of Flagstaff, new initiatives on the horizon for FAC and fostering stronger ties between the region’s art and business communities.
Where are you from and how did you get to Flagstaff? I’ve lived coast to coast and several places in between. My father’s career led us to multiple states. I’ve spent the most time in New England (Rhode Island and Boston) but most recently was based out of Oregon City, Oregon. My sister lives in Flagstaff and strongly suggested I move here when I was at a transition point in my last job. The day I decided to join my family in Flagstaff is the day I discovered Flagstaff Arts Council.
The last community you were with won a prestigious prize during your tenure. Can you tell us about it? The Great American Main Street Award is the highest honor bestowed on three nonprofits per year out of more than 1,000 Main Street designated communities. The organization I led, Downtown Oregon City Association, was selected for the award because of the dramatic transformation of Oregon City’s downtown over the ten years of organized revitalization efforts. Our inclusive community development process was also cited by the jury. The positive outpouring and pride from Oregon City and the Portland-metro region was incredibly gratifying.
How does Flagstaff compare to Oregon City? There are a lot of similarities between Flagstaff and Oregon City. Both communities have strong local pride and an ever-growing cultural scene. Both have long and important histories that predate white settlement located adjacent to sacred sites. Oregon City is home to Willamette Falls, which is North America’s second largest waterfall, and Flagstaff is at the base of San Francisco peaks. Oregon City’s modern existence is rooted in forest products, much like Flagstaff.
There are a few key differences, Oregon City’s proximity to Portland drives much of its economy. On the other hand, Flagstaff has to be much more self-sufficient for its workforce and arts ecosystem. Also, tourism and the university are major players in how Flagstaff evolves.
You’ve been in the job a little more than seven months – what’s your impression of Flagstaff in general and the artistic community more specifically? Flagstaff is an incredibly vibrant community and there is a lot of energy to strengthen its creative economy. A lot of artists visit or call Flagstaff home. I haven’t been able to experience all that Flagstaff has to offer, but I am impressed with the people I have met and the experiences they create. People that choose to live in Flagstaff love this community and it shows in their art. I hope, as the population continues to evolve, that we will be able to engage more and more of the citizens of Flagstaff to be patrons of the arts.
What programs offered by FAC impress you the most? FAC houses many programs especially with our management of the Coconino Center for the Arts. I will choose two.
At the top of that list is Viola Awards. Galas are hard to do right. I was thoroughly impressed by the number of attendees and their enthusiasm. Awards ceremonies can be very boring. The Viola’s was not!
I’m also impressed with our signature exhibitions. Most recently was Hope & Trauma in a Poisoned Land and next year will be Parched: Art of Water in the Southwest.
What new initiatives or programs are on the horizon? Our Board began discussing the future of Flagstaff Arts Council at its retreat in April. With the departure of the last director, the organization is at a natural inflection point. Through the process thus far, we’ve identified three imperatives: catalyze the arts ecosystem; foster diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); and promote the integration of arts and science throughout the community.
Arts ecosystem is two parts, the strength of the creative sector as a driver of the Flagstaff economy and whether Flagstaff is an attractive and viable place to make art and pursue creative endeavors. DEI is a buzz concept in the nonprofit world. We aren’t taking it on because it is popular. Art enriches all of our lives and art is enriched by a broad range of perspectives. Finally, Flagstaff has great pride being America’s first STEM City. FAC believes that exposure to the arts and creative expression bring even more value to STEM education and professions. Finding opportunities to integrate arts and science is mutually beneficial.
There is a lot more thinking that has to be put into each of those imperatives. For one, what is the community’s vision for art, science, and culture? What role does tourism have to play? What are our values? From there we will begin to identify specific initiatives that have the greatest impact given our limited resources. For example, to foster the arts ecosystem, we can focus on driving demand or patronage, expanding general operating support, or developing the capacity and skill of our practitioners. There is also a consideration of how the business community is a sustainable and valued partner.
We will continue to share our ideas about how we can best serve the Flagstaff community over the coming months. If any ECoNA stakeholders would like to share their perspective, please feel free contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 928-779-7019.
There’s been some talk – and a feasibility study – about a new arts center. Any more news on that? A feasibility study was completed towards the end of last year which coincided with the departure of our prior Executive Director. The study and the process unearthed a lot of great information, but what it most importantly revealed is that there is a lot more work to do to understand what really the best fit for Flagstaff and our arts community is.
Now that we are feeling pretty confident about our leadership transition, we want to restart the conversation in the context of our upcoming strategic plan. We expect to convene an exploratory task force late Fall to pick up where the feasibility study left off.
Anything that involves capital campaigns and strong partnerships takes time. In the meantime, we are nearing the completion of more than $60,000 in investments in Coconino Center for the Arts including a state-of-the-art audio-visual system in the theater, refreshed gallery spaces, and a new community meeting space. Whatever the future holds, we want to make sure that Flagstaff has access to a vibrant and active arts center. Also, how can we make the case for a new arts center if we aren’t fully utilizing the one we have?
Anything that we should have asked you that we didn’t? We are beginning to think of FAC as being at the intersection of government, business, and creative practice. Outside of underwriting programs or participating in First Friday ArtWalk, business is largely a missing part of the conversation. We intend to fix that. In the coming weeks we will be launching a Corporate Partnership program and will be working with our corporate partners to establish meaningful connections that support a strong quality of life for their employees and customers.