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Julie Hain, Executive Director, SJCA Remarks:

Thank you, Cori. And thank you to the whole SJCA Board of Trustees for your confidence in me.  I am honored and humbled to take on the role of SJCA's Executive Director.


As some of you know, the role of SJCA Executive Director is new to me, but I am not exactly "new." I have almost 20 years of experience working with artists and arts organizations, coupled with a business degree and a Master's in the Humanities from the University of Chicago. I believe in lifetime learning and am always looking for opportunities to grow my skills. I recently completed the NAS Executive Program in Arts & Culture Strategy at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy & Practice, and I squeeze in all the webinars and information sessions I can to keep up to date on relevant topics. 


Over the past three years, I've held a few different titles with SJCA, ranging from Membership Engagement Manager to Interim Executive Director. 


Whatever the title, my focus was always to expand SJCA's reach and build a true ALLIANCE to represent the full spectrum of arts and culture in South Jersey. I love data almost as much as I love connecting with artists, organizations, and cultural groups to understand their work, share their stories, and help them become more sustainable.  


I have always been drawn to work that centered around connection and collaboration; I am so excited to continue that work here with SJCA and all of you.  I genuinely believe that together we can build a stronger, more collaborative, thriving South Jersey Cultural Community. 


To understand where SJCA is going, we need to step back and look at where we have been. When I came to SJCA three years ago, it was a different organization.  A little narrower in scope, focusing mainly on established nonprofit arts and history organizations. Membership wasn't growing or reflective of the populations we serve here in South Jersey. Program attendance wasn't great. It seemed as if many of our members were unclear about SJCA and our role in the South Jersey Cultural Landscape. We definitely had some work to do!


After a 25+ year history of working with a small number of South Jersey nonprofits, we realized that the SOUTH JERSEY Cultural ALLIANCE was not living up to its name; we weren't representing the WHOLE cultural eco-system of arts and culture in our region.  We had been ignoring the cultural contributions of non-traditional groups, independent artists, arts administrators, culture bearers, artists of color, cultural community groups, and other creative contributors to the South Jersey cultural community. 


The organization undertook the strategic planning process to help SJCA become more inclusive, sustainable, and impactful. From that planning process, we have identified the principles that will guide SJCA's work:


  • It will take the entire cultural community in South Jersey – arts organizations, history sites, cultural organizations, tourism groups, artists, patrons, and supporters – working closely together to ensure the sustainability of the sector. 


  • Smaller organizations, under-resourced/emerging artists, and groups that focus on culturally specific arts and history are already an essential part of the region's landscape. Bringing these people and groups into the Alliance will make us more inclusive, more responsive, and better advocates for the sector as a whole. 


  • SJCA should be the hub of an agile, reciprocal network that seeds the collaboration, peer learning, and resource sharing that fill emerging needs in the field.


  • The SJ Cultural Community must work together to attract and leverage resources for the sector to thrive and survive. 


  • The creative economy of South Jersey depends on the synergy between people, organizations, and sectors. 


We approached this new direction for our work by launching the South Jersey Cultural Asset Map Project (SJ CAMP), and it has been going very well.

Since the beginning of SJ CAMP, our directory has grown from around 80 organizations to more than 800 cultural assets - and growing every day! 

We were able to accomplish this tremendous growth through, you guessed it, collaboration! 


SJCA runs on a minimal staff with the help of interns and could not undertake a project of this scope alone. By partnering with Stockton and Rowan University, we were able to work with a diverse team of student interns to build the SJ CAMP database, central directory, and interactive map, which are the foundation of the project. 


Don't get me wrong, the map and directory are great tools, but SJ CAMP is so much more than just a map! It is the tangible, visible result of the research and outreach SJCA is undertaking to connect with cultural assets and showcase the robust array of cultural assets and resources in South Jersey. 


The next phase of SJ CAMP includes a survey to gather details about each of the cultural assets, their work, their partners, the communities they serve. We want to collect a wide range of information from the field.


SJCA can use this information to guide future programs, develop maps and narratives that can help bolster advocacy efforts and funding applications, and provide a central directory for the cultural community to find and connect with each other.  


The expanded SJ CAMP directory also allows SJCA to distribute information widely and equitably, creating a reciprocal communication network. This "two-way" communication helps SJCA understand the emerging needs of the field and allows SJCA to broker communities of practice and other opportunities to foster collaboration and build capacity among organizations, groups, and creative individuals in South Jersey.


We began addressing DEAI and broadening the communication network and in our cultural community through work with OF/FOR/All.org. For those unfamiliar, OF/BY/FOR/ALL.org is a nonprofit that provides coaching and a structured model for outreach to help develop authentic relationships with community partners. Our work has been fruitful and has helped SJCA deepen relationships with the BIPOC and Hispanic communities in South Jersey and welcome culturally diverse artists and organizations to our membership.


With all these new members and community supporters, we needed to find a way to stay connected through COVID. Like most of you, the lockdown was the catalyst for SJCA to make a shift to virtual programs over the past year. It seems like a million years ago we all began using Zoom and other virtual platforms daily to move our work forward. 


Through collaboration, we were able to partner with Stockton University's communications department and graduate students to provide live English translation during our first-ever Spanish-language South Jersey Creatives at the Table session. 


While we all have a bit of Zoom fatigue, but no one can deny that virtual meeting has their benefits. Virtual programs give us to stay connected, informed, and accessible to audiences of diverse backgrounds, abilities, and geographic locations. 


I think we can all understand how difficult it can be to get out of the office and travel for in-person meetings, particularly given the size of our eight-county region. Some of you might have to travel more than an hour to arrive on-site for a meeting. That is just not feasible for many of our busy arts administrators and artists. That's why over the past year, we have been offering monthly Virtual Connection Sessions, periodic South Jersey Creatives at the Table, and a series of South Jersey Artist Conversations online. These events give SJCA members dedicated time and digital space for networking, social learning, and collaboration without the travel and time commitment. It also helps to amass a resource library of prior conversations and topics of interest to the field. Feedback from these events has been overwhelmingly positive. Almost every session is followed by stories of inspiration and collaboration from participants.


Don't worry if you missed these sessions; the programs will continue into 2022, and all recordings are housed on SJCA's YouTube channel and shared via social media. 


In addition to these virtual public events, we will also be brokering small communities of practice sessions to help individuals, groups, and organizations from across the field come together to discuss shared interests. For example, SJCA has been working closely with each county's Cultural & Heritage office to help share best practices and streamline and ensure inclusion in the grant application/review process. 

This pilot community of practice group has been thriving and will help shape the development of additional cultural communities of practice across South Jersey. 

These meetings will take place both virtually and in-person, depending on the specific group. More details to come in the next few weeks.


In addition to these virtual sessions and Communities of Practice, SJCA's website is getting a makeover too, which will allow more ways to search, connect and engage with your cultural colleagues. The new and improved sjca.net site will include: 

  • direct access to your digital profile page and member records, 
  • enhanced SJ CAMP searchability and map features, 
  • easier access to timely updates and opportunities, 
  • a revamped event calendar, 
  • GIVITAS reciprocity platform to directly tap into existing resources in the cultural community
  • a job board to list openings and internships


And many other features that will shape sjca.net into an essential resource for all things arts and culture in South Jersey.


The site should be up and running very soon! It is exciting to refresh our digital face to the community.


As important as the virtual world is to the way we work today, the importance of in-person connection can't be underestimated. Unfortunately, the size of SJCA's staff (1) doesn't allow us to be everywhere we need to be! 


To help remedy that problem, I have been developing a program to place a diverse group of locally-based "Arts & Culture Ambassadors" to assist with outreach and engagement in each of the eight counties. These paid local Ambassadors will routinely engage with their local cultural community, host convenings and discussions, attend local cultural events, and report relevant topics from the field to SJCA. 


There will also be collective meetings with all the county Ambassadors to help SJCA develop a complete picture of arts & culture in each of the South Jersey Counties. Ambassadors will also provide content for social media, blog posts, and the beginnings of what will become an archival directory of cultural images from across South Jersey. 

The 1-2 year terms will ensure that a diverse array of artists/cultural administrators fill these leadership roles within their communities.  


The program will also provide opportunities for the Ambassador to develop leadership, DEAI, and community-building skills with training provided by Springboard for the arts. 

This educational component will help ensure that the Ambassador program develops a pipeline of skilled cultural leaders ready to serve on the boards, committees, and staff of arts and culture organizations throughout South Jersey or to find success pursuing their own community cultural projects.


As you can see, SJCA has a lot of plans for the coming year and beyond. If I had to choose a "theme" for our plans, I would say it is "Synergy, Collaboration, Connection." These are all terms you will hear a lot more of as SJCA continues to rethink the way we engage with our members and the cultural community at large. They are the pillars upon which SJCA's member community is built. SJCA's member community acts as a mechanism for exchanging ideas, providing mutual support, and learning from the experience of others. 


Our membership is among our greatest assets. Each SJCA member comes together to build each other up and strengthen the cultural community of South Jersey.   Today's SJCA is a dynamic organization, bringing all of South Jersey's cultural assets' collective talent, skill, and experience under one virtual roof. This critical resource strengthens the nonprofit cultural community with collaboration, connection, peer learning, resource development, and advocacy. 


I am proud to lead that organization into its next chapter and work closely with all of you to help foster a thriving, sustainable cultural sector in South Jersey. Don't hesitate to reach out to me anytime at jhain@sjca.net.


Now, in keeping with the theme of connection, collaboration, and community, Jun-Li Wang, Associate Director, Programs/Springboard for the Arts, will utilize her years of experience helping to build Collaborative Creative Communities to lead a discussion and activity designed to help you begin a plan of action to connect with cultural assets in your local community.


Thank you so much, Jun-Li, for being here with us today. I don't want to steal any more of your time, so with that, I will turn the virtual stage over to you.

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