Here's Why Phoenix Needs a New Executive Director of Arts and Culture

Gail Browne is retiring from her position as executive director for the city of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture. She hasn't set a firm date, because she's staying on board during the transition to a new director.

"We just posted the position and hope to do interviews in September, so we have someone in place by the end of the year," she says. "I'm committed to staying in place until we're able to identify the next leader."

Browne has served as executive director since March 2014. Previously, she served more than a decade as director for the University of Arizona Poetry Center.

"This is an opportune and ideal time, with changes happening around the city and with the city council," Browne says of her upcoming retirement. "The work of this office is so important, and things are ripe for further change and growth."

The Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture is part of the Phoenix Arts Commission, created by the Phoenix City Council in 1985 to preserve the city's cultural heritage while furthering the arts in public and private sectors.

As director, Browne oversees public art, grants, cultural facilities, arts learning, and outreach. That includes working with an operating budget of about $5 million, plus another $12 million from the city's percent-for-art program.

Several projects completed during her tenure have been recognized in and beyond Arizona.

In June, a public art project called Shadow Play was named one of the country's best public art works by the American Institute of Architects.

She's had other accomplishments as well, including increasing grant funding for Phoenix arts and cultural organizations to more than $900,000. Rosemarie Dombrowski was named the city's first poet laureate in 2016. And the city created a Friends of Public Art group about three years ago, to assist with funding maintenance for public art works.

During Browne's tenure, the Office of Arts and Culture added a full-time community outreach position. More recently, the city passed a budget that includes funding for a full-time special projects administrator dedicated to moving efforts to create a Latino Cultural Center forward.

Several projects initiated during her term will likely continue after she's retired.

"Our office has been working on diversity, equity, and inclusion, in public arts and grant programs," Browne says. "There's still a lot of discussion, and I hope the next director will take that conversation to the next level."

She's also been coordinating conversations between representatives of various art districts, looking for ways they can collaborate on communicating their unique offerings to community members.

Now, her focus will include helping with the transition to new arts leadership.

The job description calls for an "experienced, innovative and collaborative leader" who will serves as the city's chief advocate of arts and culture, by raising awareness and increasing participating in the arts.

"We're looking for an arts leader who has experience in arts policy, preferably within an institutional setting," Browne says.

The description calls for five years of professional arts management experience, plus a master's degree in a related field such as arts administration or nonprofit management.

The salary range is $79,165 to $134,534, commensurate with experience and qualifications.

Browne is optimistic about the city's search for a new director.

"We're a vibrant city, and there are a lot of talented arts leaders out there on the national scene," she says.

She's also eager to see how the city's arts and culture scene will continue to evolve.

"I'm really excited about everything the Office of Arts and Culture has to offer," Browne says. "There's a lot more work to be done to assure that we are responding to the needs of all the people who live in Phoenix." 

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