Two years ago, Spokane’s arts director left for a job with a non-profit art school, saying “10 years of bureaucratic wrangling and always being on the firing line took its toll.”
Now comes Karen Mobley, who, after spending the past four years as director of a non-profit community museum, is looking forward to the “stability” of a city-funded arts program.
Mobley, one of 78 applicants for the post, moved here from Casper, Wyo., where she directed the Nicolaysen Art Museum and Discovery Center.
Last week, Nicolaysen board president Kay Smith commended Mobley for her administrative skill, her ability to pull groups together and “her wonderful knowledge of art.”
Mobley, 35, also distinguished herself as a fund-raiser.
“I had a fund-raising goal of $16,000 a month,” she said. “That’s a lot of money for a community of 50,000 people. By comparison, this looks like a relatively stable, well-funded arts organization. I expect there will be financial challenges, but I think I can handle them.”
Besides, Mobley said, “Here, the light bills are already paid. I see this as an opportunity to focus on programming instead of having to worry about the elm-leaf beetles in the trees and whether or not the custodian showed up for work.”
The Spokane Arts Department’s responsibilities include operating City Hall’s Chase Gallery, maintaining the municipal art collection, encouraging cultural opportunities and acting as liaison with the arts community. Its annual budget is $105,000.
When she’s not administrating, Mobley enjoys drawing and writing poetry. She cited the desire for “a larger peer group” as one reason she sought the Spokane post.
She also wanted to live somewhere she could enjoy the advantages of city life and still be near fishing and hiking opportunities.
“Spokane seems to have a balance - urban enough that there’s quite a bit going on, yet you can live 10 or 15 minutes away from places to do outdoor things. That was very appealing to me,” she said.
Since her arrival in Spokane two weeks ago, Mobley has conducted impromptu interviews with people around town.
“My sense is that the average person in Spokane isn’t aware of the Chase Gallery or services the Arts Department can provide,” she said. “People don’t know we’re here.
“I plan to work on community awareness, and figure out ways to be both more accessible and provide more of what’s wanted.”
Already Mobley is talking about scheduling noon-hour and late-afternoon events in Chase Gallery for downtown workers.
But she also realizes that much of what the Arts Department does is less glamorous and behind the scenes - for instance, organizing workshops to teach grant-writing skills.
And, of course, there’s that one topic that arts groups, both public and private, are perpetually grappling with: money.
“Right now I’m working on our budget - what services we can provide, and where the money will come from,” Mobley said during her second day on the job.
As for arriving in the wake of controversy - her immediate predecessor, Carolyn Lair, was fired following allegations that she lied on her resume - Mobley sounds undistracted.
“What happened before doesn’t matter that much,” she said, “as long as we stay focused on the mission of the Arts Department and build on the programs we have.”
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