NTA for Arts: Emanuel Arts Council

  • 1 part-time saff person
  • 10-15 board members
  • $100,000 annual budget

Since its founding 38 years ago, the Emanuel Arts Council (EAC) has worked to provide art and cultural activities and arts education to enrich the lives and economic well being of local citizens. Housed in a renovated church building in rural Swainsboro, Georgia, the EAC has one part-time paid employee, its executive director, Jen Meadows.

The nonprofit organizes many popular initiatives and events, including an artists’ guild, a youth advisory board, artist-in-residence, community theater and dance programs, as well as festivals celebrating African American and Hispanic art and culture. The EAC gallery space is active, with artist exhibitions scheduled continuously through 2014. A group of ambitious and loyal volunteers and a working board take on many responsibilities, and several financial supporters “really make a difference funding wise,” Meadows said. But one ongoing challenge over the years has been to widen the base of supporters who recognize the value of the arts as a means to foster awareness of diversity and improve life skills and overall healthiness of the community, which is the vision of the EAC. To date the council has not relied heavily on technology. “We still do many things on paper,” Meadows said. When she learned about the NTEN Nonprofit Tech Academy (NTA), she was excited to expand her knowledge. “I was hoping to learn what software might be a fit for our organization and how to get board members, volunteers, and potential new hires trained on it,” she said.

Meadows participated in the NTA with a member of the EAC board, who used computers at the local library and community college to attend the virtual sessions, since the operating systems and software on the organization’s two donated desktop computers couldn’t support access.

As a result of the NTA, the board member took the initiative to redesign the nonprofit’s website using WordPress, a content management system that would enable the group to more easily manage and update content. The project also included making the site more interactive for artists and other visitors, and adding a donation page and social media links. Plans include the addition of online ticketing for events, something Meadows and volunteers have been managing manually.

The board member has been a “driving force” behind the site update, according to Meadows, and has since recruited two other directors to assist. He also has taken on the unofficial role of technology liaison to the board, which came as a welcome surprise to Meadows. In fact, she is hoping more board members and some of the organization’s volunteers as well will express an interest in future tech-related efforts and initiatives. As executive director, she knows she needs to spend the lion’s share of her part-time schedule on strategic issues, overall leadership, and technology planning, and less on implementation and day-to-day operations.

Currently the EAC lacks both a strategic and technology plan. But it’s a priority for Meadows, who became director in 2009. “Ultimately my goal is that we will form a strategic plan and, at that point, look at all the ways technology can help us accomplish those goals and then how to raise the funds for it.”

As a result of the NTA, Meadows feels more confident about delving deeper into technology. She also feels better able to convey tech-related information to others. “And I know where to get some of the information I don’t know. Just learning about what resources are there to help with some of these issues is a huge benefit,” she said. “Sometimes that makes all the difference.”

[This case study is part of a series documenting the challenges and successes of arts-related organizations learning to apply technology to achieving their mission. The Nonprofit Tech Academy is a 9-week course hosted by NTEN. This case study and this organization’s participation in the NTA were generously supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.]

Kim Roth