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Tell Us Your Board/Staff Relationship Stories

By Simon Mallett

When the Rozsa Award for Excellence in Arts Management was introduced in 2003, it paved the way for significant additional work by the Rozsa Foundation in the area of arts leadership, culminating in the establishment of the Rozsa Arts Management Program (RAMP), and the subsequent introduction of Rozsa Admin Fundamentals Training (RAFT) and the Rozsa Executive Arts Leadership (REAL) program. These programs help develop arts administrators, managers and leaders at all stages of their careers.

In 2019, the Rozsa Foundation introduced the Rozsa Award for Excellence in Board Leadership, which recognizes a Board Chair of an arts organization whose work supports and advances the work of the rest of the board as well as the organization’s leaders. Tara Owen of the Alberta Craft Council was the inaugural recipient of the award, and the call for nominations for 2020 is coming in March.

One of the key goals of the award was to recognize Board Chairs who are doing excellent work in their organizations, as many stories that emerge about board/staff relationships are negative ones – whether about a lack of oversight by the board or when a beloved artistic leader departs an organization due to an untenable working relationship with their board. While these situations certainly exist, there are also many, many arts organizations in which the working dynamic between board and staff is productive, supportive and lifts the organization to greater heights.

Recognizing and celebrating shortlisted nominees for the Rozsa Award for Excellence in Board Leadership allows us to share the stories of board leaders who are cultivating positive relationships, leading their organizations through transition and adversity, and strengthen the arts sector through their work.

While recognizing and celebrating these board leaders is critical, so too is providing education and training to help support the overall strength of arts organization board members. The Rozsa Foundation is now in the early stages of planning what a training program for current and future board leaders might look like, and we’d like to draw from your experiences on either side of that relationship for input.

We’re interested in hearing from arts organizations and board members about the pain points that exist in board/staff relationships. What knowledge gaps exist about the working dynamic that prevent this relationship from running smoothly? What do board members wish staff knew about their work that they don’t and vice-versa? What key policies, processes and documents have you found helpful that you might want to share with others?

We’re also particularly interested in hearing about specific examples, past or present, where gaps in knowledge or process created tensions that perhaps could have been avoided otherwise. We don’t need names, just enough information to help us figure out what kinds of teachable moments might emerge from the lessons of the past.

These will provide some of the building blocks on which we form a professional development training program for board members, specifically those working with arts organizations. While we’ve all heard many stories where misunderstandings or gaps in knowledge have led to challenges, we’re keen to hear from the arts community to better anticipate and consider a full range of considerations as we look towards future training opportunities – so please share your thoughts with us!

I’d love to hear from you, so please drop me an email at with whatever you’d like to share on the topic!

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