A deep dive to review and strengthen RACC

by Madison Cario

Since arriving in Portland nine months ago, my time has been filled with stories. Stories from artists, the community, our partners, our supporters and of course, some of our critics. I have heard an incredible range of anecdotes and ideas, I have listened to feedback, and I have enjoyed conversations around the question of “why”—why art and culture are essential, why RACC exists, and of course, why art and equity matter.

These stories have brought to life the goals and objectives that RACC’s Board of Directors—in alignment with the City of Portland and the community at large—established for me when I was hired. Key priorities were to evaluate RACC’s challenges and opportunities, and to develop a strategic plan ensuring that RACC can fully realize its vision—and responsibility—to support and advance a thriving, equitable and inclusive arts and culture environment throughout the region.

In service to this vision, it has become very clear to me that RACC must engage in a deep internal review, evaluating our own organization from within before we engage the community in establishing new priorities for the future. This work is essential to strengthen RACC’s foundation and to set us up for doing more good work in our community.

I am truly excited to embark on what we are calling a “deep dive.” I came to RACC to lead the organization into a new chapter, implement change, and strengthen our important work. This is exactly what we aim to do and I want us to be as transparent as possible throughout the process. So here is what we plan to do next:

First we will conduct an independent review of our financial structure and systems. Fortunately, we have a great track record of solid accounting practices and controls as verified every year through independent financial audits. At the same time we know that many of our financial systems could be improved for greater efficiency and effectiveness.

  • We have hired a third party to review our budget and analyze the cost of RACC’s projects and programs.
  • This assessment includes a review of financial statements and reporting systems, recommendations for process improvements, an assessment of the capabilities and limitations of our finance and accounting software, and recommendations for staffing and structuring the finance team.
  • I should also note that RACC completed a pay equity study this past summer, which showed balanced and appropriate compensation among our team. We made some minor adjustments in response to the study’s recommendations.

Second, we will transform RACC’s internal culture. It is essential that we lead on issues of equity and inclusion, and ensure that RACC has a vibrant, forward-thinking culture that reflects the thriving communities we serve. To do this work, we will take these steps:

  • This summer, RACC issued an RFP for a partner to work with the staff and board over an 18-month period to build a comprehensive plan for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Access—including comprehensive training and mentoring programs. The search committee is in the final phase of reviewing proposals, and we expect this work to begin in November, building on equity-focused workshops that we completed over the past few years.
  • We are also in the final phases of hiring an internal, part-time Equity & Organizational Culture Facilitator who will help guide the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access consultants. RACC also has a strong Staff Equity Workgroup that reorganized this past year, and I am grateful to them for moving much of this work forward.
  • We will retain a third party to review our HR systems, policies and procedures with a particular equity focus on hiring practices, professional development, supervision, retention, attrition, and compliance. A search for that partner is now underway.

These priorities represent the most important next steps in RACC’s strategic planning process. We continue to be guided by questions about our future: What will Portland and its citizenry look like in the years ahead? What needs, opportunities, trends, and personas will arise, and what will be the best role for RACC to play going forward? One thing we know for sure: our region will rely on art, equity and efficiency to succeed, and it is incumbent upon RACC to ensure that our internal systems are strong as we set out to merge these priorities in service to the community.

This work will go deep, and take 3-6 months to complete before we continue into the next, more public phases of strategic planning. These internal reviews will become the foundation for our path forward, reflecting our commitment to equity and our obligation to ensure that everyone in our community has access to culture, creativity and the arts.

I am grateful to RACC’s many stakeholders for their ongoing support, and remain inspired by the region’s strong commitment to arts and culture. We are excited to build an even stronger support system for the future of our arts and culture community, and I welcome your comments and questions at any time. You can reach me at ed@racc.org.