After more than a year of lockdown, arts venues across the region are preparing for a fresh start this fall. The return of performances, concerts, exhibitions and more is also an opportunity for local professionals to express their passion for the arts through volunteer service on an arts board.

In anticipation, this September, ArtsWave will welcome a new class of leaders to match to the wide array of arts organizations across our region through its board leadership training program, Boardway Bound. Graduates of the program have the opportunity to match their skills with various arts organizations across our region.

Boardway Bound has trained more than 400 individuals for board leadership by combining the fundamentals of nonprofit board service with an immersion into the inner workings of the arts community. An impressive roster of companies — including P&G, Thompson Hine LLP, PNC, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Ohio National Financial Services, Fifth Third Bank, Champlin Architecture, EY, GE Aviation, Kroger and The Christ Hospital Health Network — have used the program to develop emerging leaders and to retain top talent in the region by engaging employees through volunteer board service.

Boardway Bound graduate LaCrea Burns, a consumer analytics leader at P&G who served on the board of the Cincinnati Black Theatre Company, says, “One of my missions is to increase diversity in our community. I’ve used board service and my access to what’s behind the performance to show people that Cincinnati is a great place to live, work and play.”

Teresa Ernst, a retired executive who now serves on the May Festival board, concurs. “It was a terrific program, and it came at the right time in my life,” she says. “Arts are so important to the vibrancy of a community. For retention for the big companies, that’s a big deal. And it works for recruitment as well. The arts are a reason to come to Cincinnati.”

Boardway Bound provides extensive networking opportunities with a diverse group of leaders — and the connections are lasting, according to Ernst. Newcomers to Cincinnati will find a new circle of friends; mid-career professionals will get to share their expertise in impactful ways; and long-time residents will be re-energized by the vibrancy of the arts in Cincinnati.

Greg Ruud, a managing director at KPMG who served on the board at Manifest, was invited to the program by his employer. “It really opened my eyes to everything that this area has to offer,” Ruud says. “When we came here from Chicago, we struggled to find the culture in the community to enjoy.” His lasting impression of Boardway Bound: “Wow. There is a lot here. And it’s really interesting to learn what people build organizations around.”

That insider’s perspective is a key program draw. The six two-hour sessions of the program blend in-person and virtual learning with a high degree of interaction, case studies and expert commentary from leaders in the arts. A networking component, sponsored by Thompson Hine LLP, is included in each session, and this year’s program includes additional networking opportunities with Boardway Bound alumni. Session topics range from the fundamentals of advocacy, fundraising and marketing, to the dynamics of arts budgets and nonprofit governance; even experienced board members find new insights in this program.

“I was surprised that the skills transferred to things I run into at work. I work on big brands, but I sometimes have a small budget,” says Burns. “I’ve learned to be more creative in finding funding.” Ruud cites the increased understanding of role clarity between board and staff, which also translates back to the workplace: “It’s the idea of knowing the things that only you should do and holding others accountable to doing what they should do.”

In the final Boardway Bound session, program participants meet with arts groups in a “speed-dating” approach that is intended to create successful matches, which then lead to invitations to join an arts organization board. Leaders in the arts applaud the opportunity to connect with new and well-prepared board recruits.

“I see the benefits of Boardway Bound from both angles — as a board member myself and as a leader of an arts organization,” says LeAnne Anklan, executive director of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra. “We always look forward to drawing on program alumni, as they come to the table with a certain level of knowledge and training about not-for-profit board membership that makes their transition to trustee much smoother.”

There’s a reason for that, according to Burns. “I bookmarked my Boardway Bound materials, and the first year after the program, I was in there all the time. The resources are amazing!”

Boardway Bound graduates are also highly engaged, according to Tom Kent, managing director of Elementz. “We have found that the board members coming from Boardway Bound tend to be our most active and supportive board members. Most have stayed on our board for several years.” Ernst echoes that affirmation. “Boardway Bound is a no-brainer. It increases your network in the city. It educates you about the arts in Cincinnati. And the bonds you build there remain.”

Applications for Boardway Bound are open now through June 15. Individuals of all backgrounds and career stages are welcome; ArtsWave seeks to ensure that the organizations it supports reflect our entire community. Learn more or apply.