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Influential Women in the Arts: Brandi Newton

Influential Women in the Arts: Brandi Newton

Although it was difficult to do in-person interviews for the other featured women of this series, due to distance or scheduling, I’m glad I had the chance to interview Brandi Newton in person during my shift at the Idaho Falls Arts Council. Brandi celebrated 10 years at the Arts Council during Fall 2023 and I enjoyed sitting down with her to chat about her role as the Executive Director of the Idaho Falls Arts Council.

What is your job title?

Executive Director of the Idaho Falls Arts Council

How did you get this job?

Before this position, Brandi was the accountant of the Arts Council and then through a series of life events, she decided she wanted to return to work full-time. During this time she started managing the construction aspect of the pending ARTitorium on Broadway, and then the current executive director left. Upon the vacancy in this position, she was asked to interim, and when facilitating one of the interviews the question arose about why she hadn’t applied. Brandi said, “I hadn’t thought about it and then realized that I didn’t know a lot about art but I believed that art was important to life and I valued what the arts council did for the community.” It was from this perspective that she would be able to champion the mission and lead the Arts Council for over a decade.

What is your educational background?

Brandi has a Bachelor’s in Accounting and holds Certification as a Six Sigma Master Black Belt Champion.

Did you always want to do this sort of job?

Moving through life she was always torn between wanting to be Martha-Stewartesque in the home and being a commanding presence in the board room. “If there was someone else that stood on stage and did the thing that would be fine,” but she recognized that she could “have value in both.” Newton told a story of a time in her earlier days with the Arts Council when she saw her children ride by her office window on their bikes with the nanny and there was a moment in which she was torn between, “I’m glad they’re having this experience, but I wish it was with me.” This is a conflict many working mothers face.

Can you give an overview of the duties, functions, and responsibilities of your job?

Per her resume, Brandi holds the responsibilities of:

  • Leading a mission-driven, board-directed, non-profit organization that owns and operates the Willard Arts Center and ARTitorium on Broadway.
  • Overseeing all services and activities we provide to our community.
  • Developing and shepherding the operational plan and comprehensive budget annually, while cultivating and fostering relationships for fundraising.
  • Prioritizing safe, inclusive, and diverse arts programming for our community.
  • As primary spokesperson for the organization, locally and nationally, spearhead brand recognition with media, community groups, and other agencies while mentoring staff.
  • Creating a culture where humble service is prioritized as part of creating high-quality experiences.

Is your job what you thought it would be when you started?

“Yes. the basic tasks, yes. The biggest challenge of a non-profit leader vs a business leader is that there is a much bigger expectation of surviving on someone else’s hard-earned dollar. There is a lot more perceived investment in what we do. There are more expectations from the community about what they think we should be doing versus if they were buying a product from a corporate business. There’s a misconception that non-profits should operate like a corporate business while also being your favorite ‘ma and pa’ shop with that extra personal touch.”

What is your proudest accomplishment over the last 10 years as the Executive Director of the Idaho Falls Arts Council?

“The culture change of who we are in the community. I hope everybody feels comfortable and that our interaction with supporters is that everyone feels valuable and important.”

What is your favorite show that you have brought to Idaho Falls?

“There are moments from all of them that I remember and love, but even more I love watching other people enjoy things that I might not enjoy.” Some of her favorites are:

  • The Hot Sardines
  • Cheyenne Jackson
  • Rhythmic Circus: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now

You’ve been Executive Director of the Arts Council for 10 years and this year is its 30th birthday, where do you see the Arts Council in the next 10 years? What about in the next 30 years?

“In the next 10 years I hope we’re even deeper established into the fabric of the community, that everybody knows who we are and what we do and sees any experience with us as a positive one. I want to continue to invest in the facilities and the gifts that we’ve already received. I want to find better ways for money to not be the barrier to participation. I want to broaden our reach of students that get to participate what we do.”

“In the next 30 years, I hope I’m not here anymore.” She laughs. “I hope the Willard Arts Center has a rooftop deck and parking garage. If it were easy there would be a $100 million investment that we could use for major life-changing programming, but without community support, it scares me that people might not know we’re there.”

“I never want to offend the people who started the Arts Council. I want to honor them and not let them down.”

If you could change anything about your job, what would it be?

“The running joke lately has been pay and retirement benefits. That’s a non-profit hiccup. There’s an expectation that it’s okay to pay you a lower wage because the passion for the project is carrying you through, but the work is the same.”

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the arts in the non-profit sector today?

“The confidence of long-term sustainability. The arts council has lived through years where there is an endowment that we’ve sworn off of ever touching, but no money in the bank. How differently would I operate if I knew that I’d always be able to make payroll and turn the lights on? What risks could we take? What investments could we make? What would we start next if we knew that there would be enough money?”

What advice do you have for young women aspiring to be in leadership roles in a world largely operated by a patriarchal system?

“There is room for everybody at the table, if one female is succeeding that doesn’t mean that you have to diminish because of it. Be true to who you are. Be confident in how you want to do life. If you want to be a mom, do it. If you want to be a CEO, do it. There’s room for all of it.”

You can learn more about the Idaho Falls Arts Council at their website and on their Instagram.

 

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