National Black Arts Festival Once Again Seeks New Director

Credit National Black Arts Festival

The annual National Black Arts Festival is months away, but it’s not clear if the organization will have an executive director in place.  For the third time in four years, the organization is once again looking for leadership. 

In May of 2009, WABE interviewed Neil Barclay.  He had just been introduced as the new executive director of the National Black Arts Festival.  Barclay was replacing longtime executive producer Stephanie Hughley.

He talked about the challenges of a large arts organization like NABF.

“Our whole field is being challenged right now to kind of reimagine how these organizations are going to be run and sustained, and not just black organizations but really all arts organizations that have depended on the philanthropic community and/or wealthy individuals to the extent that’s been possible.  All of that is under strain right now.”

Barclay would leave the National Black Arts Festival in November of 2011 to pursue other ventures.

In an [earlier] interview with WABE, Evern Cooper Epps, NBAF board chairwoman, talked about the next step in finding the next director:

“… but do it in a way that we find an individual that comes in and has the same creativity that Neil does – or had – and at the same time be able to have … the business acumen to respond to the changing times and conditions.”

Three months later, in February of 2012, former Fulton County Arts & Culture Director Dr. Michael Simanga [see-MON-ga] would be named the festival’s new director.

Prior to last year’s festival he talked about the challenges the organization was facing:

“Well, it’s had to adjust how it does business overall.  So it has been a challenge.  But we’ve adjusted.  We have a smaller staff than we used to have.  We do fewer events but still impactful events.”

Now according to Simanga it’s time for him to move on:

“I’ve been active in the arts in the field for a very long time, and there are a lot of other things I want to pursue at this point.”

Simanga says his contract was only for a year:

“NBAF, like most non-profit – and particularly non-profit arts organizations – right now is trying to reimagine itself and get itself on a more sustainable future and footing … and that the board has been very engaged in trying to figure that out and to put in place certain structures and bring in … some other kinds of support.”

Now for the third time in four years, the board of the National Black Arts Festival needs to find a new executive director.

Simanga admits there was what he calls necessary creative tension between the board and the staff:

“So, I think, the most important thing is that the board, staff, former staff, volunteers – everybody who’s had some relationship to NBAF – continue to … hope for the best, contribute where they can, and try to make sure that the voice of this organization gets heard.

ROSE SCOTT (continuing): “How would you characterize your relationship with the board?

“Well, it was a working relationship.  It’s exactly what it should be … they have a responsibility to govern the organization, they have a fiduciary responsibility to the organization, and they have a fundraising responsibility to the organization.”

Over the last few years, staffing at the National Black Arts Festival has dwindled.

Simanga says when arrived at NBAF, the organization was in the red, and as he leaves there’s still the challenge of raising funds.

As for his next arts destination, Dr. Michael Simanga offered this:

“You know, this is the moment in life when I’m trying to see what’s next.  I think what I’m going to do immediately is to go home and play my drums and see what they say.”

Evern Cooper Epps, the NBAF board chairwoman, was not available for comment.