New Arts Council Director Discusses Vision for the Future

May 5, 2016

The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre's production of "Evita"
Credit Fred Western

Last month, the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo announced that it had selected a new executive director. And it was a familiar face for many in the Kalamazoo arts scene – Kalamazoo Civic Theatre executive director Kristen Chesak. The Arts Council plays a major role in the city, from organizing every month’s Art Hop to providing grants to local institutions and artists. And as the council prepares for a new shift in leadership, it's also preparing for major new challenges such as a growing Art Hop and decreased arts coverage in Kalamazoo. 


In a wide-ranging interview with WMUK, Chesak and Arts Council interim executive director Beth McCann talked about those issues -- and a lot more.

On the challenges facing the Arts Council:

"In terms of connecting people, I think that's really important," Chesak says. "And that's becoming more and more difficult. I know we've talked before about media coverage of arts. Not just in terms of getting reviews out there, but making sure people know what's out in the community! What's available for them to do or see. And also knowing what other artists are doing. That can be very enriching. That can also be very enlightening, so that we don't get too heavy in one area or another, so that we're not all trying to do the same thing at the same time."

"In terms of connecting people, I think that's really important. And that's becoming more and more difficult.

  Chesak says she sees the Arts Council playing a role in solving the problem, and she points to potential partnerships with other organizations.

"We're all doing it in our own little ways in our organizations, instead of one place," she says. "I know we've just started having conversations with the library and the preservation department up at Western about those things."

On future plans for Art Hop:

"I don't see that Art Hop is going to just implode and take over the entire community," McCann says. "I see very strategic growth. And I think that's the smart way to grow it. Every successful program has a life cycle. So as we were talking before, we need to stay ahead of it."

"So whether it's marketing, or match-making between businesses and artists, or the concentration in certain neighborhoods, we need to stay on top of what the trends are and have Art Hop fit what the community model is."

On how local arts organizations have weathered decreased funding in the past

"I think too, back in 2008, '09, '10, a lot of organizations came together and started collaborating more," McCann explains. "It's actually had a positive impact on funding. Organizations that potentially would not come together on a project now, instead of doing their own, they come together and do a joint project."

"The community supports (collaboration)...that's the cool thing that happens in this community! That goes towards the sustainability, which ultimately affects the funding in a positive way."

"That has a very positive effect on funding," McCann continues. "Funders like that. Audiences like that. The organizations like it. So I think we've also, as part of that transition to become relevant and to become sustainable, we've done things like that. And the community supports things like that. And that's key. I mean, it supports a joint concert between Wellspring and Crescendo. Or a theatre and the Civic...that's the cool thing that happens in this community! That goes towards the sustainability, which ultimately affects the funding in a positive way."

Hear the full interview with Chesak and McCann: