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In conversation: Amy Harriett Miller, president of the Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts

Bill DeYoung

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Amy Harriett Miller has assumed the lead role at the seven-year-old Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts. “Big changes are in our future," she says. Photo provided.

There’s a new sheriff in town, and she’s bound and determined to clean things up and set everybody straight.

As the recently-named president of the nonprofit Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts, Amy Harriett Miller – who has been working successfully in the nonprofit arena for more than 25 years – will oversee, direct and guide the crucial relationship between Edwards’ organization and the Mahaffey Theater, one of the cornerstones of arts and entertainment in St. Pete.

“Every major city has to have a performing arts center,” Edwards said in a media release announcing Miller’s appointment. “We are already planning significant changes for the foundation and the theater, and Amy is the perfect fit for this opportunity.”

A growth consultant with expertise in nonprofit management, business development, fundraising, marketing and public relations, Miller spent nine years on the Dali Museum’s development team, and was an integral part of the $40 million campaign to build the “new” museum in 2011.

The South Bend, Indiana native was also co-founder and executive director of The History Council, an organization dedicated to establishing St. Petersburg as an historical destination, as well as a cultural one.

Miller visited the Catalyst studio Tuesday to talk about the Bill Edwards Foundation for the Arts, her plans for overhauling the organization, and the desire she and Edwards share of “working collaboratively with the City and all of our cultural neighbors to draw more visitors to St. Petersburg.”

The conversation is excerpted below; listen to the entire interview here:

 

Tell me about the foundation – I think there’s a lot of confusion out there as to what it is, vis a vis the Mahaffey Theater.

There certainly is; that was what I noticed immediately when I came on board. The foundation is the supporting arm of the Mahaffey Theater. So a majority of the programs that take place in the theater are supported and developed by – i.e. funding for the theater is raised by – the foundation. A lot of people don’t even know that this foundation exists. I worked across the lawn from these folks for about a decade, and I really didn’t understand their business model until recently.

Some foundations award money to other non-profits. We do not; we are not a funding entity. And then the fact that we have Bill Edwards’ name in our foundation, because he is a philanthropist, a lot of people think that we, in fact, give away money when we do not. We are seeking public support.

 

So what you’re saying is: By supporting the foundation, you’re helping to bring shows to the Mahaffey Theater. Is it that simple?

Absolutely. I don’t think people have understood in the past that the concerts are here because of the support that the foundation gets. That support goes to the theater. The foundation also supports the arts education program for youth and underprivileged children, community outreach programs. Basically, all programs, performances and concerts at the theater are supported by the foundation.

 

Did you come in and say ‘Let me fix some things here’? Did you see that when you came in?

Absolutely, I saw many things that could be changed, restructured and improved. As well, they did have some turnover – they had several past presidents before I came on – and I think consistency’s probably working against them as well. Any time you have turnover you’re going to have problems and challenges. I look forward to the challenge, and I’m having a good time.

 

What do you see as the first hill you need to charge up in this new job? What is your first challenge?

The first challenge is getting in, really rolling up my sleeves, reading the by-laws, reading the articles of incorporation, figuring out how they legally operate, meeting all the staff, figuring out whether or not their talents are being used in the right way, whether or not they need to be re-aligned. And in fact they have, so I really got in there and did a lot of research and investigating in my first 30 days, and I’ve already made sweeping changes to that effect.

And probably the next step is to just get on to the messaging and the branding … we’ll be working with the board of directors in September to change the mission statement. We’ll be broadening our mission. And we’ll be working collaboratively with all the other arts organizations in our community. We want everyone to know that we are people who say “yes,” we want to work with everyone. We have open arms. And with St. Petersburg being the City of Arts, there’s really no other way to get the job done.

 

 

 

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