5 Questions That Matter with Jeannie Howe

Jeannie Howe is Executive Director of the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance. Prior to joining the GBCA, Ms. Howe was founder and president of BayCliff Associates and provided management and fundraising consultation for various nonprofit clients including Everyman Theatre in Baltimore for whom she led a successful $17.7 million capital campaign.


Who are you leading?

I’m leading the cultural sector and taking them to a place where they can discover and exercise their own power. When they do, change happens. By working as a constituency they get strength from one another.

I think artists and cultural workers should see themselves as a voting bloc. They don’t. It matters, because the cultural community and artists are stereotyped as always having their hand out. We don’t. We’re a sector that has a tremendous amount to offer. As long as we’re seen as takers and not as contributors we really don’t have power.  GBCA can change that.


What’s in it for the rest of us if cultural sector power is exercised?

We get stronger education for our children. We get positive impact on our neighborhoods and a connection for a community to have its own identity.

We get a much better world and by that I mean Baltimore and the surrounding counties. To me, it’s like living up to a potential. It’s not as though there aren’t already many good things happening. It’s organizing it, recognizing it, and allowing people to live up to their best. And that attracts other people.


If GBCA is the solution, what is the problem?

One problem is the lack of formal cultural planning like they do in New York, Boston and DC. I hope the GBCA would be a part of instigating a more strategic approach to cultural planning in Baltimore.

Another issue is that cultural organizations and art institutions need to connect with communities beyond their existing audiences. It’s not just audiences. It’s also about leadership development and organizational culture, and the need to think about how they are programmed. The GBCA impacts each of these areas.

There’s not enough cohesion between artists, institutions, and smaller organizations. Individual artists are trying to be heard. Institutions have assets many people don’t understand or have access to. Smaller organizations are doing great work but on a shoe string. GBCA is a place where they can exercise power, access resources to a better extent, and create a better Baltimore and its surrounding counties. GBCA is a voice for the cultural sector that is very independent.

The GBCA is creating a kind of movement. Our members are part of a collective action towards a greater good. They also have their personal and institutional hats on, but they come to this table because they see the benefit of working together.

How are storytelling and leadership linked?

If you want to be able to help people understand your vision you have to be able to tell them a story. When you talk about the need for data to demonstrate economic impact, people glaze over. You have to have that information, but, that information doesn’t convey how a child’s life has changed, or how an arts program has flourished and enriched a community, or how a neighborhood has been transformed. Stories give data context and meaning.


What makes you the right person to lead the cultural sector?

I understand people’s sensitivities and have a strong sense of social justice. My strength is removing silos and getting people thinking about how we can succeed as a community. My background is with a lot of different organizations. The common themes include bringing disparate communities together and helping people, partners, understand how they fit together. I look for the commonality and the intersections.

I’ve been here three and a half years. We’ve moved very fast. There were immediate opportunities to take in new ideas, new projects, and funding became available from the Deutsch Foundation. We’re taking a moment now to say, OK, how are we prioritizing this work? It’s a wonderful moment for us.

We’ve been operating like a start up, one with a lot of history. We’ve moved forward very fast. That was very exciting, and it is equally exciting to think about what’s coming next.

Photo by MDArtsDay