The Ark – DeVos Programme Learning
In the first of a series of leadership interviews with organisations taking part in the DeVos Ireland programme, we asked Avril Ryan (General Manager) and Tanya Allen (Development Coordinator) of The Ark to reflect on the first eight months of their participation and to share their learning. | Interview by Chandrika Narayanan-Mohan.
The Ark is a cultural centre for children located in the heart of Temple Bar. It is a space for children ages two to twelve years of age to explore their creative side through an artistic programme consisting of theatre, literature, painting and dance to name a few. The Ark’s participation in the DeVos programme comes at an opportune time when the organisation is working on a new long-term strategic plan.
Both Tanya Allen and Avril Ryan had heard of the Kennedy Center and the work of Michael Kaiser, and in previous years The Ark had taken performances to the Kennedy Center. However, it was through Business to Arts that they discovered the DeVos Programme and the New Stream partnership.
For Avril, it is the language and shared terminology provided by the programme that makes a large impact: “Creating a stronger language around these areas, when used around Ireland, creates a more knowledgeable sector”. For Tanya the three key points are Programmatic and Institutional Marketing, Incremental Fundraising, and the necessity for long-term planning. Avril also feels like the programme is “trying to get [them] out of that reactive and into more proactive thinking and long-term planning”, which can help an organisation get out of a potentially frustrating cycle of only planning short-term.”
Since beginning the Programme, Tanya and Avril have met the set tasks head on, and have already completed a number of assignments. One of the key initiatives that Tanya took, together with their Communications Manager Muireann Sheahan, was bringing fundraising and marketing together in order to implement a newly completed Institutional Marketing plan. Tanya feels that “marketing and development go hand in hand”, and so it was important to start that conversation early. She believes that bringing the two together is necessary “to make the programmes happen, to make the programmes full, and to get the money to support those programmes.”
Additionally more board involvement is being encouraged, particularly in terms of Institutional Marketing. This is a longer term process in line with longer term planning. This focus on board involvement, which is a large part of the DeVos Programme and the American model it is based on, enables the team to use their board’s expertise, experience and contacts in different ways. Tanya said, “Having that board involvement…was absolutely vital, I think it’s really the key thing in ensuring that the programme was going to be done in a top to bottom way that has meaning and impact, and it means that we’re serious.”
Regarding Programmatic Marketing and long-term planning, the Acting Director and the creative team are already eighteen months into their three-year Artistic Programme Plan. In terms of fundraising, the Ark has truly covered a great deal of ground already. Before Christmas they launched their new Family membership scheme which is currently proceeding very well, and have re-evaluated their corporate membership programme. Along with these bigger projects, new strategies are already in place such as holding multiple events in the venue at the same time, the touring of the exhibition currently on show, and self-guided tours for parents and children. Avril elaborated, “We are broadening our offering and really looking at our assets to see how we can get the most out of them…[the Devos Programme] is really making us look at how we can take those incremental steps.”
As far as the actual delivery of the DeVos Programme, Tanya and Avril both feel they have greatly benefited from Michael Kaiser and Brett Egan’s in-person seminars: “we felt very inspired and very energised,” commented Tanya. In terms of areas for improvement, they felt that telephone conference calls could be improved by using video communication, although the personal conference calls have been incredibly useful and focused. Additionally, they have found the supplementary material very well-written and think that the calibre of presentations by Michael Kaiser, Brett Egan and Marie Mattson were excellent.
Overall, Tanya and Avril, along with Muireann and the rest of their creative team are well on their way to fully implanting their learning from the DeVos programme. Tanya believes that the programme has really given them perspective as an organisation, an helped create an ambitious but realistic mindset. As Avril says, “the DeVos programme has really made us take the time out and analyse what we’re doing…and open up the possibilities of what we can do.” She also believes that “this partnership is professionalising the arts further through a more universal language and approach”. Both Tanya and Avril hope that this programme, through the participating organisations and their board members, will help spread the idea of corporate philanthropy throughout the Irish arts sector to build a new culture of giving.