In 2017, the Art Gallery of Northumberland (AGN) engaged Laridae Communications Inc. to conduct a community engagement project which concluded that the community clearly values the AGN and wishes to support it. However, Laridae concluded in July 2017 that the organization continues to face structural and chronic sustainability issues that must be addressed if the AGN is to remain viable over the long term. In November 14, 2017, Laridae led a discussion with the Board and two representatives of the Town of Cobourg regarding strategic themes and priorities. Twenty one priorities were developed that called for a review of how the organization was run, an assurance of sustainable funding, a reduction of costs where possible, an improvement of benefits to the community, a restoration of the AGN’s reputation and quality, an improvement in communications and a strengthening of volunteer management and more.
The Town and the AGN agreed that the AGN has tremendous cultural and tourism potential for the Town and the greater region but that the “long-term operational and financial viability of the AGN are contingent on the implementation of fundamental changes at the AGN”.
So the Town agreed to provide more funding in 2018 than in 2017 ($160k vs $95K) and would agree to continue with enhanced funding IF the AGN “demonstrates commitment to develop a professional Business Plan and implementation strategy”. This is spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that Council approved at the Council meeting on May 22. The AGN describes this in a Press Release issued May 25:
By the end of 2018, the AGN will deliver “a business plan that will clearly define a mandate, governance and organizational structure and a sound financial model. The MOU has also established a clear communications and progress reporting plan.”
Required Specifically by the MOU (summarized)
Mandate – Within the Board, staff, membership and broader community, there are many conflicting opinions on the mandate and vision of the AGN. Therefore, the mandate and vision must be reviewed and revised to provide clarity for future operations.
Governance – There are different types and categories of art galleries as well as various models of governance. The AGN needs to evaluate these options carefully against a revised organizational mandate and potential operational partnership with the Town of Cobourg.
Organizational Structure – Based on the recommended new mandate and governance model, core programs and services need to be identified along with a draft organizational structure and key roles and responsibilities to deliver those services.
Financial Sustainability – A key component of the Business Plan will be a financial strategy mapped to the organization’s new mandate, governance and organizational structure. This will include an approach towards sustainability through grants, fundraising/sponsorship, program fees and membership.
Communications – The Business Plan shall include a Marketing Strategy that incorporates branding and community engagement.
What does this mean?
Although the AGN seems to be operating successfully, there is doubt that it will remain viable over the long term. Some hard decisions need to be made – one recent one was to transfer the Port Hope “store” to Northumberland 89.7 radio so it is no longer a resource drain on the AGN. They need to decide on what their mandate is and to all be going in the same direction. The Town will provide financial support but only up to a point. They seem to be saying “Show us that you can run as a viable business and that the benefits are worth the cost.” To form your own view of what’s happening, read the MOU and AGN Press Release in the links below. Or go to their AGM on Tuesday, 29 May at 5 p.m. at the AGN in Victoria Hall.
- Memorandum of Understanding (Draft attached has been approved by Council so is now in effect)
- AGN Press Release.