Hot Seat

Photography by William S. Speer By Kim Cartlidge  February 1, 2009

After a tumultuous summer during which former exec director Martine Collier and several board members abruptly resigned, the Arts Council appeared to be mapping a new course, strengthening the board with some power hitters and in October hiring new executive director Russ Crumley. An entrepreneur who says he has a geeky side, Crumley has a 20-year career managing creative teams and projects, most recently with his St. Petersburg-based Performance Learning Group. When we spoke to him after his first few weeks on the job, his calendar was already full and his iPhone was humming.

What needs to be done to restore the Arts Council’s effectiveness? It’s going to be a daily walk. Members need to see a vital role for themselves on the council and a value from their membership. Additionally, our community deserves a champion to demonstrate how the arts and creative services provide jobs for their children, a better quality of life, and tourist revenue to the entire community. I have begun meeting personally with at least five organizations and artists, at their locations, every week, and reaching out to elected officials. My team’s shift to a focus on servant leadership and open collaboration has the potential to help the arts community and the public, while improving services we provide.

What drove you to leave your creative, entrepreneurial business? There is a lot of entrepreneurial opportunity within the council. We have the chance to bring volunteers, members, organizations and the public back into the process. It can work, and this community has the potential to energize new efforts around advocacy, funding, and outreach.

Do you have an artistic avocation? I wrote one work of young adult fiction. I’m now writing sections of an adult thriller that's set in Central Florida.

Some people say they have low expectations about anybody being able to maintain longevity at the helm of the Arts Council. If you take a look back over the past 22 years, you will see that the council has been a very stable organization with consistent leadership. Some of those steady voices are still the backbone of our community and will continue to be involved, with or without me. Drama might be fascinating to watch on stage, but it can be distracting and unproductive in business. 

What changes will we see in the Arts Council over the coming year? We see an opportunity to revitalize education and our outreach to education. We’ll certainly see a revitalization of Arts Day. I plan to bring back our volunteer coordinator. We want people to participate in the arts.

Do you have a long-term vision for the arts here? For the future, it won’t be construction, call centers or sports that drive the Sarasota economy. Every metropolitan area in America has been hit hard by this economy. The smart ones are rediscovering their core strengths. In Sarasota, it is the creative services, arts and culture that have nurtured and sustained the local economy for so many years. My goal is to partner with the EDC, SVCB, the county, and others around this message and around our particular strengths.

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