The Spokane Arts Fund traded a paintbrush for a microphone Tuesday when it announced its new executive director, Shannon Roach.
Roach, who will take over on Oct. 1, comes from the performing arts community in Seattle, where she led an all-ages music venue, the Vera Project, before leaving to run the Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy, part of the organization that produces the Grammy awards, in 2011.
She’ll take over for Karen Mobley, a painter who for 15 years led the city’s art department before it was dismantled last year and turned over to the nonprofit Arts Fund as part of a budget-balancing move at City Hall. Earlier this year, Mobley said she was uninterested in running the nonprofit group, which receives limited city funding.
But all the bad news hasn’t dismayed Roach.
“Times of transition, they yield a lot of opportunity,” Roach said. “I’m so excited I can’t even tell you. It’s a perfect fit.”
Roach said her experience with the Vera Project will help her here. She took over the project as it was losing both its venue and founding director. By the end of her tenure there, she had placed the nonprofit on solid financial footing, found a home for it at the Seattle Center and increased participation in its shows and programs from 17,000 to 56,000 people.
Brooke Kiener, chairwoman of the Spokane Arts Fund who was on the committee that hired Roach, said Roach’s experience made the pick easy.
“Shannon has helped organizations that were in transition, as we are,” Kiener said. “The key goal of ours is to build a financially sustainable organization, to really redefine our identity in the community so that people know who we are and what we do.”
With just three years of committed funding, the arts fund has an unsure future. When Mayor David Condon eliminated the city’s art department last year, city and community leaders scrambled to finance the arts fund, which was formerly the nonprofit wing of the city’s Arts Commission.
The city has committed to giving the fund $100,000 this year, $80,000 in 2014 and $60,000 in 2015. Other organizations such as the Spokane Public Facilities District, Downtown Spokane Partnership and Visit Spokane have pledged about $80,000 in funding.
But Roach said she was up to the challenge of finding more money for the arts fund.
“I really like government funding, but I really like it as part of a broader picture of funding,” she said, adding that when an organization is supported by multiple sources it “leads to a broader responsibility to the community.”
Her primary responsibility, Roach said, is creating a “clear identity for the arts fund that’s clearly articulated, (and to) further Spokane’s identity through the arts.”
But even before that, she said she had one goal.
“The first step is getting to know the arts community,” she said. “First Friday art walks are really neat. I really like Terrain. The symphony is doing great work as well. I went to a show at the Knitting Factory as well. … But I’m taking two weeks off before I start just to get to know Spokane.”