Strategic Realignment Process

In conjunction with its ongoing DEI work, Americans for the Arts has begun a Strategic Realignment Process to redefine its unique role as a service organization to the arts and culture field and the public good. We intend to move to a future where the mission of Americans for the Arts is central to the advancement of arts and culture, not the organization itself. To be successful, we know this process must be inclusive, transparent, and in consultation with stakeholders, staff, and board, as well as being centered in racial and cultural equity.

Using a process of Appreciative Inquiry, we will create a framework with a newly adopted set of values, vision, mission, and goals. This framework will guide organizational decision-making and new approaches to services, programs, and administration, while enabling greater adaptability to shifting trends, policies, and industry needs. The framework goes hand in hand with the creation of an organizational blueprint that centers diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility across our work—a cultural shift that transforms both internal operations and external programming and services. This blueprint will be key in our work to rebuild trust with our members, staff, board, and stakeholders—work that extends beyond the short-term and continues into our future.

Americans for the Arts is facing a significant inflection point in its 60-year history, one that requires a transformational approach, and we are committed to actionable change for the organization to recognize and adjust to a post-COVID-19 world; to embrace fully and authentically the societal shift on issues of racial and cultural equity; and be responsive to shifts in the ways of creating, consuming, and making a living in the arts and creative sector—all challenges that we know our members, partners, and constituents face profoundly every day.

Updates: What is Happening Right Now?

As of June 21, 2022

Our staff, consultant team, partners, and members have all been deeply engaged in the Strategic Realignment Process for the past six months. While it’s by no means complete, some themes are beginning to emerge. Through the hundreds of conversations, focus groups, surveys, and interviews with thought leaders we’ve had in this period, several early takeaways are beginning to surface for how our constituents view the role and priorities of Americans for the Arts going forward. These include:

  1. DEI: Centering diversity, equity, and inclusivity in all our work and policies and taking bold, visible, and accountable actions to ensure that this occurs.
  2. Research: Expanding case-making research for the arts at the federal, state, and local levels.
  3. Advocacy: Deepening and supporting effective advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels.
  4. Relationship Building: Prioritizing relationships with consideration of the impact on and perceptions of other communities, groups, and individuals by any decision or strategy.
  5. Community Building: Supporting local arts agencies to advance stronger communities through the arts; appreciating differences and tailoring strategies to appreciate and embrace those differences in context and support for the arts in communities across America.

We’re eager to hear your thoughts on this, as well as how we can make our support of your work better in the future. Please send any questions or comments about the Strategic Realignment Process to Americans for the Arts Vice President of Research Randy Cohen at [email protected]. And stay tuned for additional opportunities for feedback later this summer as we continue the SRP. 

View previous updates in the Update Archive

Values and Expectations

The board and staff of Americans for the Arts have agreed on a set of values to guide the Strategic Realignment Process throughout—equity, transparency, inclusivity, accountability, respect, engagement, trust, creativity, humility, partnership, accessibility, and vulnerability. Beyond the Strategic Realignment Process, we will invest in the organization’s capacity to maintain these in the future. 

We value and support diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). We do not discriminate against individuals based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, family responsibility, political affiliation, disability, or any other protected characteristic.

Strategic Realignment Process Consultant Team

Arts Consulting Group

  • Mario Garcia Durham
    (he/him)

    Mario Garcia Durham (co-lead, he/him, Washington, D.C.) Prior to joining ACG, Mario Garcia Durham served for 10 years as the fifth President and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP). Throughout his career of more than 30 years as a performing art professional, Durham has served on numerous boards, special advisory committees, and funding panels. He is proud to have served as the chair of the Performing Arts Alliance, which is comprised of leaders of the major performing arts service organizations in the U.S. Currently, he is adjunct faculty in the Arts Administration graduate program at George Mason University, is the president of the board of the Alliance of Artists Communities, and is the incoming president of the board of The Sitar Arts Center in Washington D.C. He serves on the Advisory Committee of SMU Data Arts and is the leader of the newly formed National Outdoor Arts Group. He is also part of a team bringing a major international Outdoor Arts Exhibit called Alebrijes de Oaxaca to cities across the U.S. Prior to his leadership role with APAP, Durham was at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) where he served as director of artist communities & presenting from 2004–2011. In addition to the management responsibilities for his funding programs, Durham was instrumental in the agency’s initiatives such as the NEA Opera Honors and An Evening of Poetry, hosted by President and Mrs. Obama. He inaugurated the NEA’s Artist Communities granting program and was the initiator of Live from Your Neighborhood, a groundbreaking study on the impact of outdoor arts festivals in the U.S. Prior to his time at the NEA, Durham held numerous performing arts management positions at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in the 1990s. A graduate of the University of Houston, Durham is passionate and knowledgeable about a broad range of performing arts and evolving forms of performance and media arts.

  • Calida N. Jones
    (she/her)

    Calida N. Jones (co-lead, she/her, Washington, D.C.) brings more than 20 years of experience in planning; workshop and curriculum development; project management; and advancing equity, diversity, inclusion, and access initiatives. She has provided strategic guidance to organizations across the country, supporting and assisting arts in the creation of equity, diversity, inclusion, and access goals. Jones previously served as the director of engagement of The Hartt School at the University of Hartford, where she implemented a faculty development training program, collaborated with the University’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion office, and curated external community partnerships with local and national youth arts agencies. She also served as program director for Music Matters, conductor of the Hartford All-City Youth Orchestra in conjunction with the Charter Oak Culture Center, director of development and advocacy for the El Sistema-inspired program PROJECT MUSIC, and artistic director of the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra’s El Sistema-inspired program Bravo Waterbury!. Jones currently serves as the president of the Connecticut Arts Alliance and as board clerk for El Sistema USA, where she also chairs the Racial Diversity and Cultural Understanding Committee. A TEDx speaker in San Jose, Jones has had the privilege of speaking at prestigious institutions such as Yale School of Music, Duke University, The Connecticut State Capitol, and The Hartt School. Jones holds a bachelor’s degree of fine arts in violin performance from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree of music in violin performance and Suzuki pedagogy from The Hartt School.

  • Douglas R. Clayton
    (he/him)

    Douglas R. Clayton (he/him, Chicago, Illinois) brings more than 20 years of experience in the arts and culture industry, specifically within theater, opera, and arts service organizations. Passionate about innovative business models, he leads ACG’s Planning & Capacity Building area, guiding strategic planning and community engagement, facilities and program planning, organizational benchmarking studies, board governance summits, team building retreats, and a variety of services that strengthen nonprofit organizations, universities, government agencies, and the communities they serve. Clayton has an extensive background in cross-sector collaboration in public-private partnerships and the dynamic relationships that exist in the creative industries. Prior to joining ACG, Clayton served in various roles at Chicago Opera Theater, ultimately becoming general director. In Los Angeles, he also acted for almost a decade as director of programming and operations for LA Stage Alliance and served as chair of the host committee for the record-breaking 2011 Theater Communications Group national conference, and as a member of the Directors Lab West’s steering committee. Clayton has worked artistically as a stage director, playwright, and performer and has hands-on experience as both an artist and producer with a range of theatrical unions in the United States, including the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, Actors’ Equity Association, American Guild of Musical Artists, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and United Scenic Artists. Clayton holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in business administration from the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. In 2018 he was named to Crain’s Chicago Business 40 under 40 list as a leading innovator in the business of culture.

Hope Nation

  • Stephanie Gutierrez
    Oglala Lakota
    (she/her)

    Stephanie Gutierrez (she/her, Oglala Lakota) has nearly 25 years of experience related to personnel, operations, and financial management. She has worked in academic, nonprofit, for profit, and community spaces. Her consulting work has been focused on providing holistic services that build the relationships critical for clients’ progress, identify strategic goals for the client’s futures, and develop actionable outcomes for immediate implementation in the present. She is a healing, justice and liberation coach, dedicated to the practice of providing healing and transformative work for the individual, community or organization. For this project, she brings will design and facilitate healing and transformation activities, conduct assessments, provide coaching, and utilize research knowledge related to best practices, trauma-informed organizational development, and transformational healing work. 

  • Cecily Engelhart
    Ihanktonwan/Oglala Lakota
    (she/her)

    Cecily Engelhart (she/her, Ihanktonwan/Oglala Lakota) has spent her entire career focused on better understanding the individual implications of systemic issues in order to better serve as a change agent and connect opportunities for transformation across sectors. Her top 5 Clifton Strengths are Futuristic, Focus, Ideation, Relator, and Context, which means she is naturally inclined to help clients think bigger about the future while holding intentional space for the internal and external relationships important to clients and the context in which they operate. She will design and facilitate strategic healing and transformation activities, conduct interviews, provide insight and recommendations around financial trauma, and provide coaching.

The Hewlin Group

  • Jay A. Hewlin
    (he/him)

    Jay A. Hewlin (he/him) is an attorney and consultant, specializing in employment law, conflict resolution managerial effectiveness, leadership, and contract negotiations. Jay’s diverse clients include corporations, law firms, government agencies, entertainment groups, and not-for-profits. Jay’s counseling, training, and instruction facilitate organizational change, strategic human resource management, handling complaints of discrimination, mediation, and more generally, optimization of organizational development through effective human resource strategy. Jay has extensive experience counseling U.S. corporations on employment law matters arising under federal, state, and local laws. Jay’s consulting and teaching are largely informed by his extensive management experience as well as his collaborative efforts with management scholars throughout the US and Canada on research examining employee satisfaction, retention, organizational culture, managing inclusive work forces, and employee selection. He is often called upon to assist managers with conflict resolution and developing core competencies of leveraging talent within diverse environments. Jay is a Lecturer in Law at Columbia Law School where he teaches Negotiation Workshop. He is also an award-winning Course Lecturer at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Montréal, Canada, where he teaches Negotiations and Conflict Resolution for the MBA and BCom programs. Jay created the course, Business Fundamentals for Musicians for the Schulich School of Music at McGill. On occasion, he conducts seminars and workshops on Contract Negotiations and Conflict Resolution for both McGill’s Executive Institute and School of Continuing Studies. He has lectured at the National University of Singapore and is a visiting lecturer at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China. Jay holds a Juris Doctorate from Columbia Law School and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Brass Performance from Boston University. 

  • Katerina Yiannibas
    (she/her)

    Katerina Yiannibas (she/her) is a professor and consultant, specializing in human rights and conflict resolution. She is an associate professor at the University of Deusto in San Sebastian, Spain and a Lecturer in law at Columbia Law School in New York City. Her advocacy and scholarship has predominantly focused on the responsibility of both States and non-State actors in a global business context and the effectiveness of non-judicial remedies to provide access to justice for business-related human rights abuses, particularly mediation and arbitration. Yiannibas is a member of the Business and Human Rights Arbitration Working Group and a drafter of The Hague Rules on Business and Human Rights Arbitration. Her career experience encompasses work in government, NGOs, and education around the world: Central America, Southeast Asia, Western, Northern and Southern Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Yiannibas received her J.D. from Columbia Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. She received her A.B., summa cum laude, from Duke University in Cultural Anthropology and French. She is a certified mediator by the New York Peace Institute and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

Ways to Participate

Our Strategic Realignment Process is designed to be fully inclusive. Whether you have an hour per month, or for the year, your input will be valued. 

  • The Strategic Realignment Process is led by Americans for the Arts’ two Board of Directors planning co-chairs (Julie Muraco and Michelle Boone) and the CEO (Nolen Bivens). They, in collaboration with our consultant team, lead a Working Group that meets weekly and comprises individuals representing Americans for the Arts’ board and staff.

  • Beyond the Working Group, Subject Matter Contributors and Public Engagement Respondents have been brought in to provide thoughtful and knowledge-based commentary. Honoraria will be provided to the individuals that are asked to provide deeper and consistent participation.

    • Opportunities for external engagement through virtual town halls, focus groups, and convenings with members and key constituent groups are ongoing. We will also post drafts of documents such as environmental scans, vision, and mission statements on this web portal to solicit responses via short online surveys and open-ended commentary.

    • During the entire month of April, we invited responses to our public survey. We are so grateful that almost 500 people across the nation responded. You can view the summary of our results and we welcome your feedback which you can provide at this link.

  • To receive regular email updates about the Strategic Realignment Process, sign up via this short interest form.

Strategic Realignment Process Update Archive

As of May 26, 2022

The results of ACG's recent Field Survey are in! Nearly 500 responses were received, primarily from people who are familiar with Americans for the Arts and its programs. View the results summary in the PDF at this link

Based on the set of individuals from the field who responded to the survey, collective responses included:

  • Growing Funding overall is the top priority for the respondents—answers identified increased private and public funding as their greatest hope and reduced funding as their greatest concern for the future. Growing Funding is seen as needing major support from national and regional service organizations, and a place where respondents do not feel supported well enough currently.
  • Providing Research and Information was the most important service currently provided by Americans for the Arts, followed closely by Arts Advocacy.
  • Arts Advocacy with state/local governments was the most desired continuing focus for Americans for the Arts. Respondents feel this is the area where the field needs the most support from national and regional service organizations and is also where they feel best supported currently.
  • Networking and Access to Information and Resources are seen as having the most positive direct impact of Americans for the Arts services.
  • Having a stronger and more connected regional presence is the most desired structural change for Americans for the Arts.

We look forward to your feedback, which you can provide at this link.


As of May 24, 2022 - CEO’s Six Ideas Toward Cultural Shift

As we look toward the future, it is important that Americans for the Arts—working with our partners—has clearer communication and better feedback loops. In the spirit of these values, Americans for the Arts President and CEO Nolen V. Bivens shares some observations he has made since joining the organization in “Six Ideas Toward Culture Shift.” These six themes are necessary for achieving transformational change and are intended to begin a more inclusive conversation—both internally and externally—about forging the way ahead together. View the Six Ideas Toward Culture Shift for Americans for the Arts, which is a visual summary of Nolen’s broader memo on these principles


As of April 21, 2022

  • During this Discovery Phase, our consultant team is currently conducting more than 20 focus groups and dozens of individual interviews with our members, partners, staff, board, and constituents to better understand our connections with the field, in addition to over 750 hours of collaborative meeting and analysis time that has been invested so far with the Americans for the Arts strategy teams. Based on all of this input, they will create detailed maps to illustrate our existing relationships and identify the primary needs of the arts and culture community. These findings will inform the strategic framework and DEI blueprint that will be developed in the summer about where Americans for the Arts can strengthen current relationships and programs, while also identifying where we need to make new inroads or invest in supporting other partners in the field. 
  • As spring arrives, the spirit of renewal is evident as the arts return more fully to our lives, reengaging our communities and inspiring us. If you are feeling the same, consider joining us at our Annual Convention next month!

As of April 4, 2022

  • Recently, Americans for the Arts asked for your engagement and feedback as part of the transformative work of its Strategic Realignment Process (SRP), and you have stepped up! Thank you. We appreciate your interest in and commitment to re-evaluating and redefining the role this organization serves as part of the field of arts and culture in this country.
  • As we move forward in this process, we are expanding our conversations with members, constituents, stakeholders, and partners to build our relationships and better understand how to best serve and support the rest of the field. We hope you will take our Field Survey for Transformational Change to provide us with valuable input for the new organizational framework we are developing in our realignment process.

As of January 26, 2022

  • Your input is welcome! Join the Strategic Realignment Process by using the new Engagement Sign up Form. All contributions of time and knowledge are encouraged. Learn more about ways to participate below. 

As of December 14, 2021

After six months of hearing candid feedback from the field and internal planning, we are ready to begin the next phase of our Strategic Realignment Process.

  • Americans for the Arts President and CEO Nolen V. Bivens announced that in recognition of the scope of the Strategic Realignment Process—as well as the need for varied expertise, perspectives, and experiences that have historically been absent from our strategic planning in the past—we have prioritized our resources to engage the services of three consulting organizations to support us through this process. Together, they will guide us through building a framework for the future as well as establishing a foundational blueprint for healing—a process that enables us to be vulnerable and open to change while letting go of historic practices and behaviors. Our partners are:

    • Arts Consulting Group, a robust, diverse team led by Mario Garcia Durham, Calida N. Jones, and Douglas R. Clayton, provide expertise in strategic realignment; environmental analysis; network mapping; and vision, mission, and goal alignment. Their experience with and dedication to the nonprofit landscape—arts and culture organizations and services in particular—with an integrated focus on inclusion, diversity, equity, access, and success (IDEAS), will be vital to the development of the Strategic Realignment Process framework.

    • The Hewlin Group, including Jay Hewlin and Katerina Yiannibas, have supported Americans for the Arts since 2020, guiding our deep internal organizational reflection and working with the Racial and Cultural Equity Task Force. They have established Americans for the Arts’ internal “Workplace Culture Rebuild” initiative, which aims to improve organizational processes, policies, and procedures to promote a people-first culture. Their continued involvement in workplace development and focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging will provide essential continuity to the Strategic Realignment Process framework and the blueprint for healing.

    • Hope Nation, led by Stephanie Gutierrez (Oglala Lakota) and Cecily Engelhart (Ihanktonwan & Oglala Lakota), will ensure the Strategic Realignment Process centers the necessary healing and rebuilding of trust with our constituents and within the staff and board. They will focus on mechanisms of justice, equity, and safety that are developed mindfully and collectively, and establish a future-forward blueprint to support Americans for the Arts in developing authentic and reciprocal relationships beyond the nine-month scope of this process. Their exemplary and thoughtful work with Indigenous and BIPOC communities will be invaluable to the Strategic Realignment Process.

  • Input from the field and our constituents will be vital to this work. Starting in the new year, we will share more information in the Ways to Participate section of this webpage on how and when there will be opportunities to participate. 

  • In alignment with our established Strategic Realignment Process values (below), we aim to provide clarity and share information with you along the way. One of the mechanisms we hope will be helpful in doing so is our FAQs page which will be updated regularly. If you have a question to include, please submit it in writing to Randy Cohen, VP of Research at Americans for the Arts  ([email protected]).  

A detailed timeline will be shared on this portal as the Strategic Realignment Process continues.