There’s often a misconception that you have to be an artist yourself to offer something of value to an arts organization. But generally, the more diverse your board, the better off your organization will be. When people with a range of experiences and skillsets – whether it’s in the areas of accounting, communications, law, Human Resources, etc. – come together to support your organization by being a part of your board, it lays a strong foundation to help you learn, grow and achieve your goals, whatever they may be.
To help with that end, Business & Arts NL is launching our “Team Up With the Arts” program in September, which will unite members of the creative sector with potential volunteers who want to make an impact. (At the end of the program, potential volunteers will have the opportunity to be matched to an arts board).
We recently spoke with some members of Tuckamore’s fundraising committee and board (who are also alumni of Tuckamore’s Young Artist Program) to learn more about their experience and why they volunteer (click here to read). This week, we’re continuing the conversation with local arts champion, Susan Sherk.
While economic development has been a big focus of her professional life, Sherk’s resume covers a wide area, some of which includes eight years working with Memorial University’s Extension Service; another eight years with Mobil Oil, working as an intermediary between the industry and the people of the province; work with Michelin Tires in the area of public affairs and community involvement; and work with a large engineering company, looking at the impact of large-scale projects on populations. She was also a member of the province’s Economic Recovery Commission under then premier Clyde Wells. While these experiences didn’t relate to the arts directly, Sherk says, “almost everything touched on the arts” in some way.
Sherk’s experience also includes sitting on international corporate boards, something which helped give her a good grasp of governance, she says. Eventually, she took this experience with her to the non-profit sector, joining the board of the Botanical Gardens, before becoming more directly involved with the arts as a board member with the Winterset in Summer Literary Festival.
Eventually, Beni Malone, Founder and Executive/Artistic Director of Wonderbolt Productions, asked Sherk to join Wonderbolt’s board, a position which she gladly accepted (and from which she recently retired after a decade).
“Beni is a phenomenal performer, but he didn’t have that background in governance…so I made up what he lacked. And we were a great team for 10 years,” Sherk says of working with Malone and the board.
Eventually, she also became chair of the board of directors of the Bonavista Biennale (a lauded event which has helped spur tourism and economic development in the region through contemporary art), joining a small group with a wide range of board and arts experience.
“It was important, when we’re starting an organization, that we had an understanding of what it is to be a non-profit, and to be in the arts,” she says.
For Sherk, one of the most fulfilling things about working with non-profit arts organizations like Wonderbolt and the Bonavista Biennale is helping create “a national/global organization; something that stands on its feet for its reputation and the quality that it has.”
“I like taking something that’s a gem of an idea and moving it forward so that we are nationally recognized as one of the best at whatever we do. It’s making sure we’ve got quality, and obviously that there are economic spin-offs and social and cultural spin-offs,” she adds.
And one of the ways to help accomplish this mission is by ensuring that the non-profit in question has a strong board of directors backing them, one with a diverse range of skillsets.
“You need, always, to have a financial person, a legal person…you also need marketing, and you need HR. These are skillsets you really need on your board immediately,” Sherk says.
“And the other thing, of course, is that we have to be representative of our growing diverse population…and we want to represent what the national audience looks like,” she adds.
Working with groups like Wonderbolt and the Bonavista Biennale “I get such fulfillment…and when I can say that I have helped two extraordinarily talented non-profits reach a higher plane, then I feel that what I have done is worthwhile,” Sherk says.
“The arts are so important to opening people’s minds, and I include Winterset in that.”
Ultimately, Sherk says, she got involved with the arts because “I felt I had something to give back.”
“But I think in many ways, an organization is only as good as a team, a strong board, with diverse talents; and the organization that they’re working with. They have to operate as a team,” she adds.
As the Managing Producer for Wonderbolt Productions and the St. John’s International CircusFest, Diana Daly says Sherk’s work with the Wonderbolt board (which Sherk chaired for a number of years) has been instrumental in helping the organization get to where it is today.
“It takes a really strong hand to organize and run a board of volunteer directors. So she takes fiduciary responsibility very much to heart. The way she ran the board meetings, the way she curated the board, was always with the mind of supporting the organization as best as possible, and making sure that we had the appropriate skills represented on the board,” Daly says, adding that Sherk’s love of circus and “her love of art and her love of people are so intrinsic in what she’s doing.”
Having completed a Masters Certificate in Project Management with Memorial University’s Gardiner Centre, as well as other board training (partly due to Sherk’s encouragement and her embracing of professional development), Daly has also been able to apply some of the lessons she’s learned from Sherk to her own board work. She’s fortunate, she says, to have had Sherk’s mentorship and tutelage.
“I just learned so much from her,” she says.
Daly applauds Sherk’s commitment to Wonderbolt over the years (including staying on to help guide the new chair) and her ability to really “get” the family-run organization.
“To say she’s dedicated is an understatement.”