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What Your Program Officer Can (and Can’t) Do For You

 

September 24, 2014

What Your Program Officer Can (and Can’t) Do For You

Vanessa Moeller, Deputy Director

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Vanessa Moeller, deputy director

I started at artsnb in 2006 as a Special Projects Officer and in subsequent years have worked my way through various positions, including research, communications, and even a short stint as interim Executive Director. My current title is Deputy Director, a fancy way of saying I am the Swiss Army Knife of the office — multifunctional and capable of filling in any gaps as needed. Over the past four years, I’ve been fortunate to have increasingly more responsibility for our granting programs, a job I now share with our new Program Officer, Joss Richer. Being a Program Officer has led to some of my richest working experiences at artsnb. Working one-on-one with professional artists every day and helping them apply for funding, access opportunities, and further professionalize themselves has been, by far, the most rewarding work I have done.

There are, however, some persisting myths about what a Program Officer can actually do for you. Being nice to your Program Officer, while always encouraged, does not actually increase your chances of getting a grant. As Program Officers, we are Switzerland — neutral and democratic. We are facilitators of the peer evaluation process and don’t have any say in who receives funding. Our job is to help clients put together the strongest application possible, organize fair and balanced peer juries, give concrete feedback to clients after competitions about the strengths and weaknesses of their applications and, of course, all the associated paperwork. To help artists, we offer tips and tricks, run workshops throughout the province, build tools and resources, and try to make ourselves as available as possible to consult with artists. If you learn nothing else from this post, let the one thing be this: as Program Officers we are available to help you, don’t be afraid to call or email us! We are valuable resources you should take advantage of.

In my next blog post I will demystify the jury process in detail but for a sneak peak, you can read about peer evaluation here. Aside from the work we do around the actual competitions themselves, we also participate in discipline-specific meetings held by the Canadian Public Art Funders (CPAF) where Program Officers from arts boards across the country meet to share best practices. These meetings are crucial to understanding what’s happening across Canada and identifying ideas that are worth bringing back to our own programming.

Since programs are the heart of what we do at artsnb, we are constantly striving to make them responsive to the needs of New Brunswick’s professional artists. We take the feedback we receive from clients, jurors, and other arts stakeholders very seriously. These suggestions and comments are recorded and taken to our Program and Juries committee, which is comprised of artsnb’s Program Officers and board members. Our agendas for these meetings are always jam-packed as we work hard to develop grant programs and program criteria. The motions and changes approved by this committee are then taken and integrated into our programs.

Being a Program Officer is often challenging since we deal with difficult phone calls from clients not recommended for funding. In a reality where our funding envelope is small and our application rates are high, this can sometimes be disheartening. What keeps me going is the caliber of art I get to see on a daily basis, the passionate arts advocates I work with, the opportunity to create responsive, timely programming, and to help, in my own tiny way, innovative, exciting, challenging art find its way into the world.