Community Arts Council

Community Arts Council Development

2022 Community Arts Council Development

The Role of a Community Arts Council
For the past twenty years, local arts councils have experienced a progressive evolution; not by chance, but by design. As communities become more dynamic and culturally diverse, so do responsive arts councils. At their best, local arts councils play a vital role in the overall cultural, social and economic development of a community. They strive to develop, support, promote and coordinate the arts at the local level. Arts councils that respond to the unique cultural needs of their communities are well positioned to receive the support of their community.

Developing an arts council requires focused planning and a commitment to offer arts programs that are meaningful and relevant to the community. Arts councils provide various services including: sponsoring arts festivals, showcasing the work of local artists, hosting art exhibits, concerts and performances, sponsoring arts workshops in community settings, or facilitating professional development services to existing arts organizations. They may also maintain arts centers, publish arts calendars, make grants to local artists or local arts organizations, or maintain a registry or roster of artists. In rural areas, the local arts council may be the only arts organization in the community.

The Local Arts Council Structure
Most arts councils are set up as 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporations with a board of directors similar to other community service organizations. Other arts councils are set up as public commissions such as a branch of city or county government similar to a parks commission. A non-profit corporation may have more autonomy than a commission and more freedom to solicit contributions from individuals and businesses. A commission may have more stability and fewer tax-related issues. Responsibility for the activities of an arts council rests with either a member-elected board of directors or a city/county appointed commission. If there is a college or university or Art Museum in the community, often the organization functions as an arts and humanities council. The higher education partnership allows the organization to expand its cultural services and educational opportunities to the community. To ensure support and cooperation from the local community, a new arts council should not duplicate programs that are offered by other organizations.

Function of the Board of Directors
The board is the managing body of the organization and should be strategically developed. Recruit board members with valuable expertise to contribute to the organization, and ensure that the board is representative of the cultural and social profile of the community. Strategic recruitment also contributes to strong administrative capacity and fiscal oversight. Potential board members must be committed to the mission of the organization, accept the responsibility of a board member and adhere to the organization's bylaws. Expectations of potential board members should be made clear prior to their commitment to serve. A board policy manual should be developed, updated annually and given to all board members.

The board of directors meets regularly, to conduct council business. It is presided over by its elected president. The board of directors should be aware that the non-profit organization must comply with the Open Meetings and Open Records Acts.

The board elects a treasurer who acts as chief fiscal agent and is responsible for keeping accurate and complete financial records. The secretary sends out meeting notices, keeps minutes of board meetings, and records and compiles policy notes. Other board members are recruited and elected as required. The board of directors sets policy, formulates long-range plans, develops the budget, and generally oversees arts council activities. Board vacancies are filled by a quorum vote of the board of directors and/or the organization's members as stated in the bylaws.

Board member's terms are usually staggered to allow for partial annual turnover. It is good practice to have term limits to ensure fresh ideas and energy and avoid volunteer burnout. A paid executive director may be hired. When a director is hired, that person assumes administrative duties that may have formerly been a board responsibility.

Operating and Program Funds
An arts council should not depend on any one source of funding. Sources of funds for arts councils that are set up as non-profit corporations include: earned income, fundraising events, corporate sponsorships or contributions, small business contributions, grants from government sources, state arts agencies, foundations, individual donors and memberships. The organization's programming determines how fundraising is prioritized. Since non-profit organizations receive public funding and donations, the board of directors is accountable to all of its funding sources whether public or private.

Forming a New Community Arts Council?  First Step, Lay the Foundation
Conduct a Community Arts and Cultural Assessment

Gather a group of enthusiastic citizens to convene an inclusive and open public meeting. Be sure to include the community's various ethnic and cultural groups, educators, and representatives from the business sector, artists, civic leaders, clergy, students, and other interested citizens. The meeting should be well publicized and held in a familiar public space. See document in this series: How to Conduct a Basic Arts and Cultural Inventory 

At the public meeting, ideas are shared and the community's cultural needs and resources are discussed and recorded. A citizens committee develops a survey to identify community arts and cultural resources, determine what arts programs are already being provided, where the gaps are, what the community believes an arts council should provide, and what the community is likely to support.

  • Survey results should be posted in the local newspaper and on an accessible web site. Printed copies should be made available in a public place such as the library.
  • Also, survey results should be presented and discussed at another public meeting. By then, the role of a local arts council is open for discussion. Someone should record proceedings of the meeting.
  • The public meetings, the survey and other information sessions that occur with public participation are documented and compiled to become the community arts and cultural assessment.

The Next Step: Build the Organization

After the community arts and cultural assessment is conducted, a smaller working committee is set up to undertake the necessary tasks of developing the new arts council.

  • The committee will develop goals for the arts council in response to the community arts assessment. They will draft a mission statement, develop bylaws that will serve as guidelines by which the organization will operate, and recruit and install the board of directors. The new board may include the working committee because of their commitment to and experience with building the organization.
  • Once the mission statement is developed and the basic board is formed, the organization votes to adopt the bylaws and files for incorporation. In Virginia, an organization needs a minimum of three people to file for incorporation. It is more efficient if the three people are already members of the new board of directors. For information concerning incorporating with the State of Virginia, contact the Office of the Secretary of State at: The organization should also file for tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) non profit status with the Internal Revenue Service. Tax-exempt status allows the organization to identify itself as a not-for-profit corporation and contributors to the organization can receive the benefit of a tax deduction. Check the Internal Revenue Service web site for forms and publications at Publication: Applying for 501-c-3 Tax Exempt Status Publication: Compliance Guide for 501-c-3 Tax-Exempt Organizations.

Non-Profit Arts Development Guide PDF