Changing of the guard: GOVAC goes from grassroots to strictly business - The Explorer: Import

Changing of the guard: GOVAC goes from grassroots to strictly business

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Posted: Tuesday, October 26, 2004 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:48 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Oct. 20, 2004 - In the fall of 1995, the Oro Valley Arts Advisory Board organized its first jazz performance in the town and encouraged attendees to bring their own supper.

People were invited to the park to listen to an evening of music under the endless Arizona sky and much to the board's surprise, ticket holders went a few steps further, bringing blankets, tables and chairs, setting out fancy linens and candles and settling in for an evening among neighbors.

"It was an incredible thing to see," remembers Dick Eggerding, who was there for that first night when a few hundred families and couples turned out for the event. He has seen the group through ten years of jazz performances, each one gaining in size and popularity.

The arts board in those early days was a "hands on board," according to Eggerding, who spent countless hours setting up tents and chairs, hanging signs, booking artists and selling tickets.

Today the group, which has since become the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council, holds two music festivals, one in the spring and one in the fall at Cañada del Oro Riverfront Park, both of which draw thousands of participants.

This year, 14 different performers and more than 60 local artists will fill up ever corner of Riverfront Park over two days for the 11th annual Jazz Festival and Artisans Market. A legion of volunteers will help set up the event and will direct activities over the weekend. Thousands of people from Oro Valley and the surrounding area will flock to the town to eat, shop and, of course, to hear the jazz.

GOVAC organizes 40 total events each year, including bringing music into the classrooms of Oro Valley students and bringing the Tucson symphony into the neighborhoods of its residents, and most of it is done through a professional staff, hired help and the willingness of volunteers.

Now that GOVAC is a $500,000-plus a year organization with a growing administration and firm place in the community, Eggerding and that handful of dedicated members who worked to establish an interest in the arts in Oro Valley is stepping back to allow those with a new vision for the future to have their time in the spotlight.

"It's a huge difference," Eggerding said of the group, of which now he is president emeritus. He said the citizens of Oro Valley who came together in the early 90s to generate interest in the arts "met our goal" and while it is difficult, he has no reservations about passing the reins to the next guard.

"It's very tough, but it's the right thing to do," Eggerding said of his stepping back. "But I'm not going anywhere. I'm still very involved."

Satish Hiremath has accepted the charge of carrying GOVAC through its next generation, as the president of the GOVAC governing board, and looks at the task as more than organizing events and raising money.

"We want to use art as a vehicle to bring the community together," he said.

He looks at his role as a way to reach out to the people in Oro Valley, and all of the Northwest. He is concerned that in the age of e-mail, cell phones and fear of violence and crime, new generations could go a whole lifetime without forming relationships with their neighbors in the community.

"It's up to our generation to bridge that gap," he said, pointing out the motto of the arts council "Enriching lives, bringing the community together."

In order to accomplish this goal, Hiremath and the new board of the arts council is taking a strictly business approach to the organization, advertising, raising money and keeping an eye on the bottom line.

But this new generation of energetic professionals is picking up where a group of equally resourceful, passionate volunteers left off.

In 1994, after some reorganization, the Oro Valley Arts Advisory Board convinced the town to conduct a cultural assessment to find out what the town had in the way of arts, what it needed and to give some direction to the board. At the time, there were members of the community, including Eggerding, who did not feel the board was doing a good enough job of providing cultural events for the growing town.

The report generated called for forming partnerships with schools, creating public art for the enjoyment of the town and finding a public gathering space where events could be held.

That report, Eggerding said, laid the groundwork for what would lead GOVAC into the future.

In 1996, the advisory board worked with town staff to take the recommendations that were given in the cultural assessment and put them in the town's general plan. Conveniently, when no one else stepped up to the plate, Eggerding volunteered to write that section of the plan.

"If you are going to do something, you better have the town behind you and you better have it organized," Eggerding says now, looking back at the carefully executed plan that wrote the group into the town books.

Eggerding and Bob Weede decided to investigate becoming an organization that was separate from the town, mainly because they wanted more freedom to be able to raise funds.

On November 13, 1996 Eggerding wrote to the town to propose the Greater Oro Valley Arts Council and in the winter of 1997 GOVAC was formed as a 501c3 organization. While the advisory board did not immediately dissolve, GOVAC would eventually take its place.

By remaining somewhat tied to the town through an ordinance creating a master operating agreement between the town and the group, GOVAC still would be able to apply for grants only available to government entities. This was another intricacy well-researched by Eggerding and team.

The town has been supportive of GOVAC since it began, devoting town funding to the group each year. As the group began to raise more money and become self-sufficient, its reliance on the town has decreased, although Eggerding said he believes a connection between the two will always be necessary.

"There has to be a commitment on the part of the town to support the arts," he said. "From the beginning it has been delineated what we would do for the town and what the town would do for us."

The relationship has been a success, Eggerding said, as the group has survived seven different councils that have voted unanimously in favor of any issue GOVAC has brought to the table.

In 1997, with General Plan in hand, Eggerding wrote to the town council to ask it to "enact" part of that plan, which called for funding public art. An ordinance was written, and remains today, requiring new construction projects in Oro Valley to spend 1 percent of whatever the cost of their project to include public art somewhere on the grounds or to give that money to students in the community for them to use on public art projects.

The result is a growing collection of sculptures, mosaics and other art displays of which Eggerding is quite proud.

Eggerding was not alone in his mission to make the arts a priority in Oro Valley. Town prosecutor Tobin Sidles helped with the legalities of forming a nonprofit organization, Don Chatfield, in his work to help plan parks in the town, encouraged the placement of a stage at Riverfront Park on which to hold events, former town assistant clerk Jane Roether helped the group find the information it needed and helped coordinate efforts with the town, and the list goes on.

"We were kind of just feeling our way along," Eggerding said. With the the book "First Steps in Starting a Foundation" as his "bible" Eggerding and Weede helped guide the group through its first years.

"You have to have passion. If there's no passion, it won't get done," Eggerding said of the work that went into getting GOVAC off the ground.

Carmen Feriend, GOVAC's executive director, was the first official employee of the organization and has seen it through this transformation from grassroots initiative to structured business. During her tenure, the group has gone from a core of six dedicated volunteers who did everything, to a large board with a volunteer base of about 200 people. She said the most significant change she has seen between now and the group's formative years has been the creation of committees that specifically address finance, marketing and the donations programs.

"Just like any other business, we need all those elements," she said, adding that the large board now running GOVAC brings with it expertise from many fields that is helping to create a positive image in the community and make the group more cost effective.

With 40 scheduled events each year, Hiremath said the group has an opportunity to bring thousands of people together to not only enjoy a concert or an artist, but to meet each other, say hello and form a bond with their community.

He looks with respect to Eggerding, Weede, Sally Innes and others who were able to get a strong foothold for the arts in Oro Valley, but said the group's mission now is to be more than a presenter, he said GOVAC's aim for the future is to change the community.

"What they did in 10 years is remarkable," Hiremath said of the GOVAC founders. "Now we are turning this into a business."

The group has a five-year plan to spread what it does throughout Oro Valley and the surrounding communities. He said through that plan, GOVAC hopes to become "the cultural center" of the area, and would hope to see a community arts center as part of that plan. The town of Oro Valley is currently studying the possibility of building such a center, and GOVAC has been suggested by consultants as the possible entity that would operate such a facility.

Feriend said she believes GOVAC has always offered high-quality programs to the community and she wants to see the group continue in that vein, but also move to address the changing demographics of the area as younger families move here.

She said through proper branding, people will know they live in an area that is committed to the arts.

"Not everyone knows what a GOVAC is," she said, but the group is hoping to change that in the near future.

The scope of the GOVAC board now leans more toward business, and a younger age bracket, according to Hiremath. It has grown from nine to 12 members this year and Hiremath said he is looking to expand it to 18. He said the more community leaders that take part in this council, the stronger the group will be. Representatives from the Hilton El Conquistador Hotel and Resort, A.G. Edwards and Northwest Medical Center are just a few of the individuals currently making up the board.

He said the involvement of local businesses in GOVAC activities has not lived up to his expectations over the past three years. While the group has the continuous backing of several large business such as the Hilton El Conquistador, Northwest Medical Center and Long Realty, he said he hopes to recruit more local small business to contribute to the efforts of the group.

"I don't fault them, I fault us," he said. "We have not been able to show them the value of it."

He focused first on increasing marketing of the group and its events, forming partnerships with local media to get the mission of GOVAC out to the community. Now that the campaign is well underway, he is turning his attention to fundraising.

He said the marketing and fundraising is different from anything done by GOVAC before because instead of selling a tangible product or event, Hiremath is "selling community involvement."

"The vision of the arts council is to take care of our own backyard," he said. "In five years, we want every household to know who we are and what we do. We want to be the fabric that holds the community together."

Eggerding is excited about the future, as well, and hopes that he will be here to see the day the town has its own cultural arts center. He said he would like to see ballet and children's theater come to Oro Valley and he hopes GOVAC can someday offer arts education to the children and families here.

But he said, no matter how many programs and opportunities GOVAC offers, what will always set the organization apart is the volunteers who see the importance of what they are doing.

"I love Oro Valley, I just do," he said. "It really shows the character and concern of the public when a community supports the arts like this one does. "

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