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Elevating Leadership: Joshua M. Freeman Foundation’s Journey to Appointing a New Deputy Director 

We recently sat down with Bob Smith, the Human Resources Manager at the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation (Freeman Arts Pavilion) to discuss his experience working with the DRiWaterstone Human Capital team for an incoming Deputy Director. In this Q&A session, Bob shares more about the organization, their goals, and the impact this position will have in making the mission of the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation a reality, among other key points. 

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DRiWaterstone (DRiW): Can you tell me a little about the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation and the Freeman Arts Pavillion?  

Bob Smith (BS): I am the Human Resource Manager for the Joshua Freeman Foundation. We are a nonprofit located in Selbyville, Delaware. We’ve been around for 16 years. We were established back in 2007 to honor the memory of Joshua M. Freeman, who was the CEO and President of the Carl M. Freeman Company’s real estate development firm out of the DC area. He died tragically and unexpectedly in a helicopter accident, and his family created this foundation to honor his memory and commitment to arts and education.  

One of our main programs for the foundation is an outdoor performing arts venue in Selbyville, Freeman Arts Pavilion. We’re a hidden gem on Delmarva; most people have not heard of us, but we seat about 3,600 people. We have had iconic artists here, from Patti LaBelle to Diana Ross to Darius Rucker to local tribute bands and the local ballet. We put on about 70 performances a season in the summer, and around 30% of performances are free to the public as part of our mission.  

DRiW: Can you share recent success stories or milestones with your org?  

BS: We have a volunteer corps that usually averages between 275 and 300 volunteers a year, and last year, our volunteers received the Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award for the state of Delaware. So that was very exciting for us.  

Also, Arts Education, part of our Arts Access Initiative, is one of the main programs we focus on when the summer season is over. We provide arts education to schools in Delaware and Maryland. This past school year, nearly 25,000 students had access to free arts programming. One of the programs that we offered was a musical performance of The Magic School. It was the first time since COVID began that we could put on live performances at our venue for students to take a field trip to enjoy. The students saw a live, educational musical performance led by Miss Frizzle, and it was amazing to watch them sit in their seats for an hour and not move and be mesmerized by it.  

DRiW: Can you tell me a little about the recent role the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation was looking to fill?  

BS: Coming out of COVID-19, as part of our growth plan over the next five years, we went from 10 people on staff year-round to 23. We’ve grown from a $4 million foundation to a $10 million foundation. That growth really sped up the need for a Deputy Director position. Our Executive Director had too many direct reports. It was stretching her, so it was decided that we needed a second person to take over some departments. It was planned for, and a need, based on our strategic plan.  

DRiW: What impact will this role have on your ability to achieve the Joshua M. Freeman Foundation’s mission?  

That’s a great question. It is tied directly to our strategic plan, the goal for this position, and the growth we want over the next five years. We’re embarking on a project to expand and fortify the Freeman Arts Pavillion for long-term success. This position will be key because some departments report to the Deputy Director, who will oversee some of those projects. It allows us to have someone dedicated to the Freeman Arts Pavilion in a way we hadn’t before because of limited staff.  

DRiW: Can you describe your overall experience working with the DRiWaterstone team?  

We had a great relationship. They were very accommodating in meeting with us. We didn’t want to talk only over the phone or via Zoom, but we wanted to meet with them and visit us so they could understand what we do and get a little insight into the culture of our foundation. So, they were very accommodating on that in that aspect. They were very good partners in helping us try to fill the position with someone who had arts experience or venue management experience—that was our original goal—and we ended up shifting away from that a little bit, which was our choice to broaden the pool of applicants.   

BS: What advice do you have for nonprofits looking to hire an executive in today’s market?  

It comes down to resources. When you go out to an executive search firm, the fee is much higher to fill that role. You can structure that fee in several different ways when you’re working with an executive search firm, but there is going to be a fee. If a nonprofit is looking to fill an executive role, and they don’t have the resources, or they’re too small, they will need some help with that. I’ve worked with executive search firms in the past in executive roles or upper-level management roles. It works well because those organizations have access to recruiting systems—the big one right now is LinkedIn recruiting. For a small nonprofit, that can be very expensive, so you’re limited to posting jobs on platforms like Indeed.com, but you’re not necessarily getting the quality of candidate you may want in an executive position. That’s where using an executive search firm can help. 

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At DRiWaterstone, we have the pleasure to work with some of the best mission and purpose-driven clients and candidates in the non-profit and social impact space. To learn more about how we can help you build your high-performance teams and drive growth, email us – we would love to talk! 

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https://youtu.be/GgODJ-FpDKw

We recently sat down with Curtis Young, who we helped place as Director of the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, to learn about his work in the arts field, his new role, his experience working with the DRiWaterstone team, and his advice for other mission-driven executive candidates in today’s job market.  

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DRiWaterstone (DRiW): Can you tell me about the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission?  

Curtis Young (CY): We're the state arts agency. Every state has one, and every territory has one, so there are 50 of them across the country. All the state arts agencies were created in response to the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts, which was established a little over 50 years ago. They were created because it requires a state arts agency to receive any funds the federal government gives to the arts.  

Here in Kansas, we are a small but mighty organization. We work to support, promote, and expand access to the arts across the entire stage. We do that in a number of different ways, and we have some initiatives going on right now. One that I'm particularly fond of is the Artist INC Initiative, which is a collaboration with the Mid-America Arts Association. They are the regional arts organization, and the program gives professional development training to professional artists to help them make a living from their art because we believe artists should get paid.  

DRiW: Talk a little about your new role there and what you're responsible for.  

CY: I'm the agency director, which means I'm responsible for everything. I'm a theater person, and to put it in theater terms,  I am the director and the stage manager. I work with our governing Commission, which is like a non-profit's board. We have a small staff with two full-time employees and then a number of contractors spread across the state...I'm currently working with the staff to shore up our strategic plan, which we're hoping to launch at the beginning of the year. I'm also responsible for ensuring that all these programs run how they need to and to help the people of Kansas.  

DRiW: What attracted you to this position and the organization?  

CY: My background is as a theater person. I've done just about everything. I've never been a designer, but I've been a stage manager and actor, and my major training is being a director. I sort of fell into arts administration by accident. I taught at college for a couple of years and discovered that I was a terrible college teacher. 

 I was lucky enough to find myself with the state arts agency of Florida, and I was there for nine years. I discovered that I have a real passion for the arts and artists and that I can make more of a difference (and change our society) as an arts administrator than I ever could as a practicing artist.  

If I'm not serving my audience, then I don't need to be doing it. This was the best way to serve my audience. I had moved up in the ranks in Florida, and it was time for me to spread my wings. And I knew I wanted to stay in state arts agencies.  

DRiW: What projects or initiatives are you looking forward to executing?  

CY: There are a couple of things that I'm looking forward to. The first is a symposium meeting coming up in Salina, Kansas. We are collaborating with the local arts agency there. It’s for local arts councils from around the state to come together and do professional development and networking. I'm really excited about that because it's going to be a way for me to introduce myself and learn what's going on across the state from people across the state.  

I'm also really excited about the Artist INC program. I ran the professional development program in Florida, so that's close to my heart. The amount of work that has been done is absolutely amazing. We have 5 workshops coming up this year. Plus, we have a session coming up in Wichita that will be once a week for months, and we're doing another virtual weekend just for the artists on the Kansas touring artists roster. We're looking at training over 100 artists with professional development skills just this year.

DRiW: Can you describe your experience working with the DRiWaterstone team as a candidate for this position?   

CY: I was contacted by the agency, and honestly, at first, I just wasn't interested. I wanted to stay in Florida or move to a big, exciting city. Then, after thinking about it and remembering how rural Kansas is, [I thought] it could be a good fit (I'm from rural Tennessee). The expansion of the arts locally is really important to me, so I got back in touch. I worked with the DRiWaterstone team, and I heard from them quite a lot. That kept me really kept me up-to-date with the process. They told me exactly what they needed from me and what was going on at all times. They completely supported me. I knew when I did have questions, they were there. They answered honestly and completely, and I never felt like anything was being held from me, which was great.  

DRiW: How was your experience working with DRiWaterstone different from other firms you may have worked with/spoken to in the past?  

CY: I had talked to other search firms when I was applying for a couple of other jobs. And the difference in the amount of support I got with DRiWaterstone was far above what I got. I always felt I had an idea of where I was in the process. At times with the other groups, I thought, "I don't feel like I'm moving forward here," and then three weeks later, I found out that I had moved forward and was completely shocked. I was always kept up-to-date with [DRiWaterstone], and I was never left out at sea like I was with some other firms.  

DRiW: What advice do you have for non-profit or social impact executive candidates in today's job market?  

CY: I don't know that I'm qualified to give advice, but I can tell you what is important, and it is what guided me to Kansas. When working for non-profits, it's important to ensure that the places you're interested in working for are ones whose missions are aligned with yours. I know that it can be very easy sometimes to think, okay, this is close to my interests, or this organization does a lot of good; I might not be passionate about that work, but I recognize how good they are. You've got to wait and hold out for the job that gets you out of bed in the morning and that lights your fire because we don't work in non-profits to get rich, right? We do it because we think it needs to be done and because we think we're good at it. Hold out for the job that really gets you going.  

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At DRiWaterstone, we have the pleasure of working with some of the best clients and candidates in the non-profit and social impact space. To learn more about how we can help you build high-performance teams and drive growth, email us – we’d love to talk!  

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