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From Detroit to Philly: Q&A with Maud Lyon, New President of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

February 24, 2015 Category: People

In early January, Maud Lyon took over as president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance after serving as the executive director of Culture Source (a similar organization in Detroit) since 2008. sat down with Lyon last month to discuss why she came to Philadelphia and what her plans are for the Cultural Alliance over the first few months of 2015.

Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

How did you end up at the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance?

In Detroit, I ran Culture Source, which was modeled after the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. What I love about this kind of work is that it really is in the crosshairs of what the community needs in terms of arts and culture.

The kinds of things we worked at at Culture Source are things we work on here too: advocacy, building awareness through various marketing programs, capacity building, and collaboration and unity. In Detroit [collaboration and unity] were particularly important.

The opportunity to work at an organization I admired for years for the quality of the research — and a cultural community that’s also been well-researched by others — was irresistible.

What would you say, personally, was your biggest accomplishment while at Culture Source?

I think my biggest accomplishment was Culture Source itself. We founded the organization and we developed it into an organization that has become an institution in Detroit to stand for arts and culture to unify the sector. I like to say this kind of organization works at the level that no individual organization can.

We did two things in Detroit: we created a strategic alliance initiative that looked at ways organizations could form long term partnerships to increase capacity by working together by working on back of house kinds of things–accounting, volunteer recruitment, building theater audiences or increasing enrollment in music education programs.

The other thing, which grew out of the need for better marketing of arts and culture, was launching IXITI (a database and central place to see arts and cultural events happening in Detroit, Ann Arbor and beyond) in 2014. Through this, one of the things we learned was how diverse the arts and culture sector really is and how there’s a lot of people doing arts and culture who aren’t 501(c)3 nonprofits.

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What makes the position here really appealing?

As I said, there’s an incredible research base here, but also the problems that Philadelphia is facing are the same problems that you’re seeing all around the country. Those problems have to do with funding and building audiences as well as really creating ways for arts and culture to both be sustainable as well as also be able to adapt to changing tastes and desires and needs.

If we can crack that nut here, it’s going to have national significance.

So far have you noticed any ways in which Philadelphia’s art and culture sector is different from other places, like Detroit?

Having not been here long, I’m not going to make a comprehensive answer to that. But I can tell you a couple of things that strike me:

Here, we have a huge tourism economy. In Detroit, 94 percent of the attendance was local. That makes a difference in terms of marketing, in terms of strategies. It also adds a whole dimension to what the organizations do, and so that’s something I’m interested in.

Another is the concentration of arts and culture — here 78 percent of our members are in the city of Philadelphia — in Detroit, it was 45 percent.

If you look at the maps produced by the University of Pennsylvania researchers in the Social Impact of the Arts Project, cultural organizations are primarily located in Avenue of the Arts, Old City and Center City. The rest of the neighborhoods, it looks like osteoporosis in the bones. I think that’s something that’s a huge issue.

Is there anything specific you want to focus on in 2015?

Some of the things I’m interested in taking a look at is the organizations of color in Greater Philadelphia. I know nationally that those organizations really struggle. They’ve depended on both government support and corporate support. Both of those have been declining trends nationally. So that’s a huge issue and an important constituency.

Arts education is another issue that I’m concerned about on two levels — one of those is the value of that to students and teaching them the skills that they need for the 21st century. The other is, if we’re going to have attendees and donors in the future, we need to have them be engaged in the arts when they’re growing up.

I’m also interested in connecting in lots of different parts of the sector — we’re convening different groups, like history organizations. Every discipline is different and faces different challenges so I’m really interested in getting a sense of that.

So I think in terms of what are we doing for 2015, we’re certainly continuing our research programs, our marketing programs like Philly Fun Guide and STAMP. But I think what we’re looking at is really long term. At the end of the day, what the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance can do to help the arts sector be more sustainable and to thrive and to serve the community well.

What do the next few months look like for you?

I’ll be getting to know the cultural community, getting to know this organization, getting to know Philadelphia itself. I know a lot about cities, but every city’s different.

We here at the Alliance are taking a look at all of our programs and really taking advantage of the fact that I’m the new kid on the block to take a fresh look at those — but that’s not just me, that’s the entire staff and the board. I would say ask me in a couple of months where we think we’ll be going as an outcome of that.

Any specific advice for arts and culture organizations in the city?

I think just in general, we all have to have a thick hide and remember that it’s not all about us. At the end the day, it’s really about the community. It’s about the consumer choice of where to seek their entertainment or inspiration.

So we have to be active players in the larger community. We can’t just be focused on our artistic missions. We have to also see that in the context of the community of which we’re an important part.

Anything else to add?

I’m tremendously glad to be here. I think it’s a great fit. I think I’m really going to enjoy Philadelphia and the Alliance. The staff here is great. I look forward to being able to do great things, and the fun will be discovering exactly what that is.

Image via Kristen Gillette


Social Impact of the Arts Project

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