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ARTS&BUSINESS: Getting Strategic With Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Editor's note: This is presented as part of a content partnership with the Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia.

Name: Karen Zinn
Company/Position: KZB Advisors/Principal
Education: Bachelor of Science in Accounting from the University of Scranton

Arts Organization: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
Flying Kite (FK): Tell us about the project you completed with Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.  
Karen Zinn (KZ): I was matched with Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens by the Philadelphia Arts & Business Council's Business Volunteers for the Arts program to help PMG management and trustees develop a first-ever Strategic Plan. Over a 10 month period I led a strategic planning committee comprised of the executive director, key staff and a panel of trustees through a series of exercises that ultimately resulted in a livable and documented strategic plan.  The exercises had them re-evaluate their mission and vision statements; examine the organizations strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; and finally to define the organization’s needs in relation to programs, funding, governance, facilities and administration. The end result is an implementable plan with milestones and timeframes which will guide the organization in meeting its future goals within a three-year timeframe, and address specific and immediate needs around PMG’s facilities, governance structure, and professionalism as an arts organization.
FK: Why do you think this work was important to the organization?
KZ: PMG was founded in a very grass-roots way, causing many growing pains as the organization matures and professionalizes.  Like most small arts organizations there are always more needs than resources (staff as well as funding) and great competition for those resources. There are also blurred lines of responsibility between the Board and the administrative staff. The executive director and board realized they needed a strategic plan to define goals and priorities and establish clear strategies and action steps for achieving them to grow as an Organization.
FK: How do you know your volunteering is making a difference?  
KZ: Now that I have the privilege of serving on the board on both the finance and governance committee, I see first-hand the benefit the strategic plan is having. We are already meeting many of the action steps defined in the plan as well as revisiting strategies and timelines.  It is a living document, not just sitting on a shelf somewhere. It is being used in grant proposal packages and demonstrates to the public and Sponsors we have a long-term vision for the organization. It is being used to influence staff and board activities and to measure how PMG is meeting its goals.
FK: As you’ve recently joined the board of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, what is it about this organization that made you want to stay involved?
KZ: PMG is a truly special place and organization. You can’t visit this incredible art installation and galleries and not feel uplifted and connected with the art and the artist. Everyone involved with PMG is passionate about their work with the organization and truly lives and breaths the mission of inspiring creativity and community engagement. Through my work with them I have been inspired and wanted to continue to be involved and contribute in some way. While I enjoyed facilitating the planning process and tangible outcome of a strategic plan document; being part of the successful implementation is the greatest reward. 

FK: How have your professional skills grown as a result of working with Magic Gardens?
KZ: My skills as a facilitator have improved, particularly when working with diverse teams – for example: I’m better able to observe when a quieter or less assertive voice is getting lost and to draw them into the discussion. Strategic Planning is an iterative process - I’m definitely more patient and creative in my thinking as a result.
FK: How did the training, matchmaking and project support from the Arts & Business Council help you succeed as a volunteer?
KZ: The director of BVA, Eileen Cunniffe and her staff are amazing. The training really helped us understand the challenges of managing an arts organization, the mutually rewarding role of a BVA Consultant, and provided tips for a successful BVA engagement. Just one week after the training Eileen notified me she "had the perfect match." Because of my workload at the time, I initially declined, but Eileen kindly persisted and provided clear expectations for both PMG and me in the contract. My role was not to write the plan but to facilitate it. There were frequent “check-ins” during the engagement and I knew I could rely on Eileen and her staff for support if I needed them.  This allowed me to relax and enjoy my role as a Volunteer …in fact, I viewed this as "me time."
FK: Who specifically do you admire at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens and why?
KZ: Everyone whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with at PMG from the creator of this magical space, Isaiah Zagar and his wife Julia, and all of the staff and Board members, have my deep respect and admiration. But it is the Executive Director Ellen Owens who I most admire and credit for making the strategic plan a reality.  She is a remarkable and visionary leader who works tirelessly to promote, preserve, manage and fundraise for Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. I have learned so much and have a greater appreciation for the Arts and the efforts of everyone involved in making art accessible through my work with Ellen. PMG is blessed to have her.
FK: How have you witnessed your organization positively impacting the community or helping it grow?
KZ: Part of PMG’s mission is to inspire creativity and community engagement by educating the public about folk, mosaic and visionary art – and they do that through a variety of activities, workshops, tours and other educational programming for people of all ages and backgrounds. And visitor attendance has grown exponentially.  But even without the direct educational programs and rotating art exhibitions - one only has to walk by the Magic Gardens or to see any of the many Isaiah Zagar murals throughout Philadelphia neighborhoods to understand the positive impact this organization has on the community by making art accessible to everyone.
FK: What's one performance, exhibit or program you've seen at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens that inspires you?
KZ: This is enormously difficult to answer because I am inspired at every visit, but if I had to pick just one thing I would say it is the Annual Gala held on a September evening in the Gardens which brings the PMG community together for a festive evening with live performances against the backdrop of the mosaic environment lit up at night.  

THE ARTS & BUSINESS COUNCIL OF GREATER PHILADELPHIA helps drive the cultural vitality and economic development of the Greater Philadelphia region by strengthening the partnership between business and the arts and cultural community. The organization is holding its 27th annual awards celebration on May 30 at Vie.

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