Alberta arts executives recognized at annual Rozsa Awards

Sara Leishman speaks after winning the Excellence in Arts Management award Monday night. Michael King / Global News

The annual Rozsa Awards for excellence in arts management recognize directors and board members who have made significant contributions to Alberta’s art scene.

The awards were handed out Monday night in front of a packed crowd in the lobby of Calgary’s Jack Singer Concert Hall.

Sara Leishman, the executive director of the Folk Festival Society of Calgary, won the Excellence in Arts Management Award.  Carol Homes, the executive director for the Writer’s Guild of Alberta, and Brendan Lord, the executive director for Choir Alberta, were also nominated.

The Rozsa Foundation also added a second category this year to recognize those who sit on the board of directors for arts organizations.

Tara Owen with the Alberta Craft Council won the inaugural award for excellence in board leadership. Cindy Andrew with CKUA Radio Network and Wendy Dupree with the Citadel Theatre were the other nominees.

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This year’s awards banquet, while celebratory, also focused heavily on how those in arts management balance creative projects with financial stability.

Simon Mallett, the executive director for the Rozsa Foundation, made reference to recent budget challenges in his opening statements.

“This isn’t the easiest time to be working with an arts organization,” Mallett said. “Despite an increase in municipal funding, that funding is now slowly being chipped away.

“Provincial funding is staring down extreme cuts and along with reduced corporate support and the overall challenging economic times, arts organizations are feeling an increased need for innovative approaches and creative thinking in order to thrive.”

READ MORE: Winners and losers in Alberta budget 2019

The Alberta government has cut funding to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts (AFA) from $29.8 million in 2018 to $28.4 million in 2019. That represents a five per cent cut to AFA’s bottom line.

Mallett said recent budget constraints will force some art directors to rethink some portions of their business practices. 

“When [you realize] that the way that you’ve always done things… won’t get you through the next phase, it really becomes about looking forward,” he said. “Thinking about new technologies, thinking about new approaches.”
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Both of this year’s Rozsa Awards recipients echoed Mallett’s comments and said that their groups have stayed viable thanks to their ability to adapt to changing economic climates.

“The organizations themselves often run on shoestrings,” Leishman said. “To be able to encourage leaders and train leaders to do more with less really is the name of the game.”

“You have to have a lot of understanding about the challenges and opportunities in the arts,” Owen said. “It’s about maintaining stability within your organization but being able to take opportunities when they come.”

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