Scott Garka has officially taken over as president of CultureWorks, the local non-profit arts advocacy organization, filling a void that was left after the departure of former head John Bryan this past fall.
One of the primary challenges facing CultureWorks these days is how to move the organization from “start-up” mode to sustainability, according to board member Charles D. Piper, who led the transition team. Piper added that doing so for a maturing organization has a lot to do with establishing flexible systems and structures, financial management, strategic planning and development, as well as building on an important network of relationships in the community. Garka’s strong business and arts background [see below] made him a top candidate.
“Scott's background provides the ideal mix of experience and capability in these areas, and while it's true he is a CPA, he impressed the transition team with his lifelong engagement in the arts through music and theatre,” says Piper via e-mail. “We're confident he is really going to build on the creative foundation laid at CultureWorks in the past five years with our staff, our board, our constituent organizations, local government and our cultural shareholders throughout the metro area.”
Style recently spoke with Garka to learn a little more about a man who is sure to be out and about in the local arts scene.
Style Weekly: Tell us about your background and why you pursued this job?
Scott Garka: I started with Arthur Anderson back in the day as an auditor and began to focus on product management and consulting. From there I went to Capital One and had a number of leadership roles in leading cross-function teams and implementing strategy with a mix of HR thrown in as well. Moved to VHQC, a non-profit health care consulting organization and there my goal was to build on my non-profit experience while focusing on something I cared about, health care. In parallel with that – the last four or five years – I’ve been on the board of Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen and was treasurer for three of those years.
The passion for the arts side comes from singing with Richmond Mens’ Chorus which is part of Monument City Music as well as acting in different shows for Henrico Theater Company and Chamberlayne Actors Theatre as well as our church. Several years ago I started actively seeking a role where I could combine my business experience and passion for the arts. I wanted to apply the business skills to enable others to fulfill their passion. At CultureWorks, we’re working on a regional level to help all the arts organizations be more together than they can be individually.
Are you coming into this role with a plan or strategy?
My initial plan is to refocus on a strategic plan for the organization. My near-term goals are to talk with as many of the arts and culture stakeholders as I can to get their input about what CultureWorks has done well, and what are the things we can do better. I think the board and I need to focus on things that have the highest impact on the community. My job in the coming months is to determine what those things are.
Will you still be using the regional cultural action plan? Bryan had a copy in his desk drawer at all times.
I’m really glad you clarified that. Through all of this we’ll be turning back to the goals of that regional action plan – that’s also in my desk drawer and something I refer to frequently. One of the things I’m hearing the most already, and what I think is one of the key roles CultureWorks can play, is bringing people together. I think we’ve done a good job in the past of connecting dots and connecting people for a better outcome. Richmond still feels like a small town so its like six degrees of Kevin Bacon and the arts community tends to be that way.
Did Mr. Bryan leave you any advice?
Yes, he left me a lot of advice, all welcome. There’s no one thing that sticks out – other than what a terrific role it’s been. I can’t hope to replace him but I’m looking forward to continuing his good work and making it my own. I’m already a member of the national group [in which he was a member] Americans for the Arts and I’m looking forward to figuring out how I can play the best role with them.
Will you be attending a lot of local events like he did?
Absolutely. It’s one of the things I loved about this job. I do have a family and they tend to be very interested in the cultural arts as well. We’ll be bringing my wife and kids to different events. My son, who is about to turn 13, plays in the band at school, I took him to a combined symphony concert called "Richmond’s Finest" in Glen Allen. My youngest daughter loves theater so we went to see “Mame” recently. My wife loves all of the above . . . There’s that quote out there that Richmond got cool overnight. It’s more than just a soundbite.
Is anything changing with grants you’ll be overseeing?
No changes at this time. We have a terrific grants program championed by Altria. I encourage people to check out our website, the next application is due in March. We’d love to expand that or create additional grant opportunities. Also I should add we are continuing with the arts and culture expo. The fifth annual Arts & Culture Xpo will be held June 27 and we’re moving it back to the Science Museum based on attendee feedback. We think the Science Museum will be a good venue to reach more people. We’d love to see more people come out this year.
What’s your take on the whole debate surrounding CenterStage and its ability to provide affordable rental space for local arts groups of all sizes?
Only a few weeks into the job I’m not comfortable offering an opinion on that but I’d certainly like to learn more about it.
Are you still on any other local boards?
No, I’ve resigned my position from [Cultural Center at] Glen Allen and Monument City Music to avoid any conflict of interest.