Arts and Culture

One of the largest arts agencies in the country is bringing back a program to introduce young professionals to local arts leadership opportunities.

The Louisville-based Fund for the Arts announced on Monday that applications for their NeXt! Ambassador program opened. The program, which runs from September to May, is a professional development experience that trains participants for board and volunteer positions.

NeXt! did not take place during last year amid the pandemic, internal strategy reviews and leadership changes. Andre Kimo Stone Guess became the Fund’s president and CEO in June 2021 replacing Christen Boone, who led the fund for seven years.

Kate Gipson was also among the nonprofit’s hires last year. She is the Fund’s director of strategic initiatives and oversees the NeXT! program, which she said has had an impact on local arts groups in the Louisville and Southern Indiana area.

“Most of the arts organizations have at one time or another had at least one NeXt! member on their board, and many have had more than that. So we know that there’s a need,” said Gipson.

She said several changes have been made to the program. Ambassadors previously had to attend an all-afternoon event once a month. Now they will attend shorter meetings twice a month. The Fund for the Arts is hoping that will make it easier for members to attend amid work obligations.

Participants will now take part in service opportunities with arts organizations, aiding in the work they are currently doing, instead of starting new projects with them, which she said will better fit organizations’ needs.

Gipson said that this year the Fund for the Arts is also making more of an effort to promote scholarship opportunities available for those who can’t afford to pay the $600 program fee.

Will Hollis is the president-elect of the Fund’s NeXtGen Board of Directors, which helps support the program. He graduated as an ambassador in 2019.

“We went through the language of the application very specifically to attract people from all across Louisville,” said Hollis.

The nonprofit was one of about 45 arts agencies surveyed in a 2021 national report by the labor union Actors’ Equity Association. The report found that most agencies’ grant-making practices were negatively impacting diversity on stages.

“We were not surprised by the findings,” said Gipson. “It did highlight some of the places where we knew like, “Oh, we have some work to do.’ And it also really indicated some of the strengths that we had.”

“There’s a lot of things to do, and there’s a lot of ways to look at that with regard to race and gender, to ability, to country of origin, all of those things.”

The NeXt! Ambassador program is aimed at young professionals, but Gipson said it is open to adults of any age. Applications close on June 20, and chosen ambassadors will be announced in July.

Jacob is WFPL's Business and Development Reporter.