Scott Garka has taken over as president of CultureWorks, the local nonprofit arts advocacy organization, filling a void left by the departure of John Bryan in the fall.
One of his primary challenges is how to move the organization from what could be considered start-up mode to sustainability. Board member Charles D. Piper, who led the transition team, says helping a maturing organization achieve that has a lot to do with establishing flexible systems and structures, financial management, strategic planning and development, and building on a network of important relationships in the community.
Garka’s strong business and arts background made him a leading candidate. “Scott’s background provides the ideal mix of experience and capability in these areas,” Piper says in an email, “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.”
Piper says the board’s confident that Garka can build on the foundation laid in the past five years. To find out where Garka might begin, Style recently spoke with the man who wants the arts community to share ideas with him at 340-5280.
Style: Tell us about your background and why you pursued this job?
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 [the Virginia Health Quality Center], a nonprofit, health-care consulting organization, and there my goal was to build on my nonprofit 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 Men’s 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 be attending a lot of local events like John Bryan 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 sound bite.
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 Xpo. 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 … to reach more people.
Are you weighing in on any local controversies yet? For example, what’s your take on the debate surrounding CenterStage and its ability to provide affordable rental space for local arts groups?
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. S