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Local Cultural Councils: A Focus on Recruitment

Timothea Pham, Program Officer

Acton Boxborough's 2019 reception with Natalie working the entrance table with another member Judy Romatelli.
Acton Boxborough’s 2019 reception with Natalie working the entrance table with another member Judy Romatelli.

Local Cultural Councils (LCCs) are managed by volunteers from the community who have an interest in and support the arts, humanities, and/or sciences. The more diverse its membership, the better an LCC can serve the many communities in its town or city. Members must elect or re-elect officers annually. As the new LCC grant cycle began on September 1, we wanted to share some tips and stories that center recruitment best practices from a few Councils across the Commonwealth.

Recruitment Best Practices

Youth Outreach: Acton-Boxborough Cultural Council
In addition to the members they already have, the Acton-Boxborough Cultural Council (ABCC) currently has two youth members who sit in with their regular committee (but are non-voting members and don’t count towards a quorum). Since state guidelines do not require that LCC members live in the town on whose councils they serve, or that they are over 18 years of age, recruitment of youth members could significantly enhance the work of an LCC.

“We wanted to reach out to younger people and try to get programming for them too, so we figured that having youth members would give us their point of view. They could help us get the word out to the youth through the schools,” explains Sharon Garde, Chair of the ABCC, when asked about the need for youth representation.

To reach this population, they explored outreach at the local high school. The ABCC posted their “openings” through the school, its website, and volunteer fair.

Sharon said that the ABCC youth members have also helped offer meaningful insight into whether Council events or the grant program would attract a younger demographic. They have led discussions about individual grants, outreach tables at town events, and have been instrumental in getting events posted through publicity channels of the school. In exchange for their involvement, the ABCC offers their youth members volunteer hours, which the high school tracks.

Utilizing Technology and Social Media: Medford Arts Council
The Medford Arts Council (MAC) utilizes a variety of publicity strategies that have enabled them to reach a wide and broad audience. They create Instagram advertisements to direct followers directly to their website. These strategies help inform the public about upcoming grant cycles, a call for members (rolling basis), and other information about the grant cycle. They also put together creative infographics on their Facebook page, Twitter, and Instagram to share useful tips with applicants.

Gary Roberts, former chair of MAC, says, “The website has been the most important recruitment asset so far. Our general inquiry email address, as well as submission panes incorporated into a few different pages on the site, allow interested community members to reach out for more information. In my experience, this website has been the most successful approach to bringing in new members because it is always ‘on’ and people can explore all of our content before reaching out. They get a sense of what we do and the impact we are having. We also publish our meeting schedule on the site.”

MAC has included their website link in their social media posts to connect all their platforms and to ensure cohesive messaging and a more thorough communications strategy.

Gary also points out that there are 4-5 community events per year in Medford that MAC attends to increase their visibility. The main recruitment method at these events is to hand out tri-fold brochures and to collect contact information (names and emails) for MAC’s quarterly e-newsletter. These newsletters allow MAC to prompt subscribers to join or to come to meetings that they hold throughout the year.

Working with Municipalities: Newton Cultural Council
Something that is highly encouraged is discovering ways to strengthen an LCC’s relationship with its municipality to meet recruitment goals and needs of the Council.

In Newton, Amelia LeClark, Chair of the Newton Cultural Council says, “Two years ago when Ruthanne Fuller was running for Mayor, I wrote her a letter suggesting a huge arts project for the city. About the same time a collection of artists, led by Adrienne Hartzell and the Newton Cultural Alliance, held a symposium for both candidates on the arts. It was very well attended. At that symposium, Ruthanne pledged to double the Mass Cultural Councils’ allocation to our LCC. At the time it was $15,000.”

Amelia said she and a few others from the artist community stayed in touch with Ruthanne and supported her candidacy. “We told her of our basic concerns and needs as artists in the city,”

When Mayor Fuller was elected, she matched the Mass Cultural Council’s allocation for 2019. This effectively changed the Newton Cultural Council.

From then on, Mayor Fuller and her administration set up the city website in such a way that people could easily view volunteer opportunities to serve on various committees and councils. The Council has received most of their new members from their website and says, “We grew within one year from 5 to 15 members. We are still getting interested candidates.”

Embracing Diversity: Fitchburg Cultural Council
According to Joe Bowen, Chair of the Fitchburg Cultural Council, their Council “has a makeup of approximately 60% student, teacher, faculty, or administration/staff from our local school systems. Many of these members are also working artists or have other talents and diverse qualities that help keep the Council in balance and connected to the diverse population of our community.”

Joe explains that the LCC’s proactive approach to expanding their reach into the entire Fitchburg community has put them at the forefront of arts and culture-related activities in the city. By increasing their visibility and having representation from different parts of the cultural community, there has been a significant increase in public interest to join the Council and submit grant applications.

They recognize that success also means understanding what skill sets are necessary for the Council and how documented succession plans (determining how many, and when, to add new members each year) can make the operations run more smoothly. Utilizing social media, inviting newspapers to their events, and booking airtime and screen time on local media channels are just a few examples of strategies used by the LCC to expand their reach.

“We all find value in recruiting students, faculty, and staff from the local public high schools, Monty Tech & Fitchburg High, as well as from our Fitchburg State University community. Working through school leaders, we were able to make contacts with departments that could help us recruit members,” Joe said.

Understanding the assets in your communities could make a dramatic impact on how an LCC functions within the cultural landscape of the municipality.

Tips for Recruitment

The following is taken from the Online Toolkit for Local Cultural Councils, specifically from the membership section

Figure out what skills and perspectives are needed:

First, figure out what skills current members contribute to the Council and what additional skills are required. Consider whether the Council’s member makeup:

  • Demonstrates competence with computers and internet
  • Demonstrates ability with finances
  • Demonstrates ability with marketing
  • Represents the diversity of the community
  • Serves the artistic and cultural community in the town or city

Think about what you can offer:

  • Think about how to describe the Council’s work and why it is so important.
  • Think about what different members have gotten out of serving on the Council. Keep in mind the things that drew current members to the Council; they might be attractive to a potential member.
  • Identify some of the more important events and accomplishments the Council has enjoyed.

Personally invite potential members:

Councils find that a personal invitation is the most successful way to recruit members:

  • Ask friends or acquaintances, especially those who have an interest in the cultural life of the community and quality-of-life issues.
  • Attend a funded project and talk to the people there about the Council’s work. Be available to audience members who might be interested in volunteering. Gather attendee names and contact information.
  • Identify and invite an individual with a specific skill or expertise the council needs, such as financial accounting, publicity, web design, public advocacy, or event planning experience.
  • Ask past LCC applicants!

Explore publicity and visibility strategies:

Some publicity and visibility strategies might help in the recruitment process:

  • Use local media outlets (newspapers, cable access channels, radio, etc.) to recruit new members.
  • Utilize different social media platforms to get the word out (see a brief description on our publicity page).
  • Prepare council information and membership flyers and distribute them throughout the community and at cultural events.
  • Contact local businesses, corporations, or the Chambers of Commerce that might print notices in their in-house newsletters and/or post notices on their bulletin boards.
  • Submit a notice to any town newsletters, reports, or other information pieces that are mailed to residents or maintain a web site or online forums that post community news.
  • Offer a brief presentation about the Council at meetings of local clubs and organizations. Explain what the Council does and express the need for new members.

To view and download customizable templates of press releases, marketing materials, and other resources that might enhance your recruitment efforts, visit the Online Toolkit for Local Cultural Councils.

If you have tips of your own that you have found useful, please email them to your regional staff contact.

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