The Art World Interviews: Lynn Lobell, Managing Director, Queens Council on the Arts

I am pleased to share with you what is the first of what I hope will be many interviews with arts professionals.    I am honored and extremely grateful to Lynn Lobell from Queens Council on the Arts, for agreeing to do this interview.  I have known Lynn for a long time and find her to be a dedicated and generous member of the the non-profit arts community and artists world in the borough of Queens, New York City and beyond.  Queens is the most culturally and ethnically diverse place on the planet and the programming that Queens Council on the Arts helps to make possible is fascinating. It can even be a window into a culture that you might otherwise not get to see. In addition to the Visual Artists Queens Council also supports Writers and Performers. Please visit Queens Council on the Arts website for more information: http://queenscouncilarts.org/

I would like to take a moment to say that every community, nationally and even internationally, has an arts council that you should connect with.  They don’t only provide grant money but free or low cost services and support to artists. For example Queens Council on the Arts offers a professional development program that includes workshops and events about the Business of Art.

ABOUT LYNN LOBELL
Lynn Lobell is Managing Director of Queens Council on the Arts. Prior to her current position, Lynn served as Director of the Queens Community Arts Fund for over ten years. Lynn has spearheaded several vital projects at Queens Council on the Arts. She penned Queens Council on the Arts Grant Writing Basics booklet, conceptualized and implemented the Individual Artist Initiative pilot which is now a staple among Queens Council on the Arts programs. Lynn has served as a panelist for the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs as well as additional grant maker discussion panels for various organizations throughout New York City. She serves on the Advisory Board of the Astoria Performing Arts Center.

Lynn holds an Arts Management Certificate from New York University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography from the University of Alabama. She has held a graduate internship at the International Center for Photography. Lynn has also worked as a freelance photographer as well as an artist’s representative and photo editor for various magazine publications. When she is not at Queens Council on the Arts, Lynn enjoys exploring all corners of New York City.

ABOUT QUEENS COUNCIL ON THE ARTS
Queens Council on the Arts is a re-granting organization serving the borough of Queens, New York City.  Started in 1966 by leader organizations in the borough’s cultural community, they formed the Council as an umbrella organization to promote cultural growth and the development of the arts in Queens, and to help artists and groups present the borough’s diverse cultural resources to Queens residents as well as the larger community.  For many years Queens Council on the Arts has been a re-granting organization for New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), the Department of Cultural Affairs for New York City (DCA) and JP Morgan Chase.  They have also worked hard at offering support services and professional development services for artists and organizations to maintain sustainability in the communities that make up the ethnically and culturally diverse borough of Queens in New York City.

MELISSA WOLF: HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE ARTS AND WHAT LED YOU TO QUEENS COUNCIL ON THE ARTS?

LYNN LOBELL: I studied photography in college. I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Photography.  I moved to New York to continue my education in photography. I had an internship at the International Center for Photography and continued pursuing photography as my art form, for a few years.  Then the reality set in that I needed to pay my rent, pay the bills and put groceries on the table. I got involved with a little art gallery at A.I. Friedman [Art Supplies], on 53rd Street. It was right next to the Museum of Modern Art.  They happened to have a little annex on 53rd Street,  and they had Letraset and Pantone Colors for CBS, across the street.  I was hired to work in the poster gallery and I had come from the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I worked in Special Exhibition Posters.

That kind of helped to pay the bills for a little while and I continued to do my photography, not as much as I had wanted to.  I still stayed very in tune with the art world. Gallery visits, museum visits and then I settled down and had a family. I really devoted my time to my kids.  After ten years of staying home , I needed to get back into the work force. I had a neighbor who worked for Queens Council on the Arts.  She actually recommended that I sit as a panelist for the Queens Community Arts Fund.

I didn’t know a thing about a grant.  I didn’t know a thing about a narrative or a budget.  I’d never written a grant before.  When I went to the panel orientation, I received a packet of a few applications, sat through the orientation and read the packet.  I was intrigued by all the programming that was being proposed and was actually happening in Queens.  I learned to read a budget really quickly and how to relate it to a narrative- and at the panel meeting I met quite a few people.  One of them happened to be Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, who is now the Executive Director of Queens Council on the Arts. She sat next to me as a panelist.  So it’s kind of interesting how we both came to work for Queens Council on the Arts professionally.  I enjoyed the panel process.  It was a volunteer position that was a great way to network with people in the community that I’d never met before.  It also gave me the opportunity to whet my appetite a little bit before getting back to work in the art world.

A few months passed and the person who was running the re-grant program at the time asked me if I wanted to do some freelance work for Queens Council on the Arts.  It was perfect timing because I was working in another freelance position, doing some editing for a book in the sports world, going through archives of photos. Although it was a connection to photography it really wasn’t my thing.

My first job at Queens Council on the Arts was to sell ads for a brochure about the Rockaways, an information guide to the Rockaways. I’d never been in the Rockaways in my life.  It was interesting for me on many levels. One was to connect to a community I’d never been to before.  It made me realize that in Queens it is a really very closed knit, tied together by neighborhoods.   Each neighborhood has it’s own quilt, the fabric is just so different.After the completion of that job it just so happened that Queens Council on the Arts needed someone to help with the JP Morgan Chase re-grant program.  I said I had the time and I’d be glad to try to help do it.  I did it successfully and I became the Queens Community Arts Fund Director , as the person who was in charge was moving on.  Once I became the Queens Community Arts Fund Director, it really put me in the forefront of what was going on in the Queens cultural community, not only in the arts but a little of politics and businesses as well. I learned so much just reading artist’s applications, talking face to face with people about their projects.  It was fascinating. That’s how I got started and I’ve been there for 13 years.Through the Queens Community Arts Fund, some of our funders wanted to see a professional development program. We get funding from the City and the State – we are the re-grant program for the New York State Council on the Arts and the Department of Cultural Affairs. They require us to provide some kind of professional development programming.  They don’t just want the money to go out. Our funders want artists to take full advantage of any opportunities that come their way to help advance their artistic career, to help show them how to sustain their careers.  Actually, that’s how the JP Morgan Chase grant started. They saw there was money for programming in the community but nothing for sustainability.  JP Morgan Chase is all about community building. The need for arts organizations and community organizations to bring economic drive to their communities.

As I was learning what I needed to be teaching people, I realized that my expertise really wasn’t there. So I received a grant to take courses at New York University’s (NYU) Certificate in Arts Administration program.  The classes were fascinating and I connected and maintained relationships with a lot of the people I met.  Ellen E. Day, Director of Brickhouse Ceramics (for example) in Long Island City. The courses at NYU really did help me guide artists through to whatever they needed to for development  I think I can now say that I have a very good overview of what it takes to run an arts organization and what organizations and artists basic needs are to develop as creative citizens can take to become sustainable in our communities. I think Queens Council on the Arts is able provide a lot of resources for a lot of people in the creative industry.  That’s the thing, how can an artist access creative resources? For an artist to set goals, direction and how to achieve whatever they wanted to get out of their art.

Now I’m managing programs and not so much in the re-grants program.  I work closely with the program coordinators of  in all programs.  We maintain a professional development program which is multilevel. My current position also involves managing many different people. I do a lot of budgets and am part of the grant writing team for the funding that the council receives.  In order for us to survive as a non-profit we have to raise funds, either through foundation, corporate or government grants or individual giving.  We do have programs that help artists get through the day to day and help them develop and offer networking opportunities and performance opportunities.

MELISSA WOLF: HOW SHOULD ARTISTS APPROACH YOU OR QUEENS COUNCIL ON THE ARTS?

LYNN LOBELL: They should not be afraid to approach us. We’re people just like they are.  We are there, waiting for people to knock on our door because we do have the resources and experience to guide people through.  When people do come to us we want them to have set ideas and goals about what they’re trying to achieve so that we can help them.  People can say “Oh we need a marketing plan” or “We need a website” – that’s the number one thing they ask for.  The website is an important tool to use but they might need a plan – a marketing plan.  People think they know what they need but when you sit down and start asking what it is that they’ve done or they haven’t done.  I always tell people the first thing they should do is get a business card made and make themselves available to any opening or networking event or gathering event to meet people because that’s how you meet people.  You can sit all day online and look at websites but there is nothing like the face to face.

 

MELISSA WOLF: DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR ARTISTS ABOUT WHAT NOT TO DO?

LYNN LOBELL: Don’t come to us and assume that you’re going to walk away with all things solved.  We’re there to offer suggestions, support and there might be many different things that we offer. It might feel confusing at first.  Some artists might walk away with a list of many things that we’ve talked about.  It’s a matter of being able to sort through them.  Walk away and come back two weeks or later on with ideas, thoughts or questions. We’re not there to solve every issue but we are there offer suggestions about how to go about doing that, step by step.  One of the things that I’ve learned from consultants that we’ve worked with is to look at your own resources.  You’d be surprised by what you already have out there and use them.  Utilize them and don’t be afraid to ask people for help.

Resources Mentioned in this Post:
Queens Council on the Arts – www.queenscouncilarts.comNew York City Department of Cultural Affairs: www.nyc.gov/html/dcla/html/home/home.shtml
New York State Council on the Arts: www.nysca.org
Metropolitan Museum of Art: www.metmuseum.org
International Center of Photography: www.icp.org/
Museum of Modern Art: www.moma.org
Brickhouse Ceramic Art Center: www.brickhouseny.com/