Steering the Craft: An Update from the Executive Director

Alyssa Herzog Melby

It’s been seven months since Executive Director Alyssa Herzog Melby began her work with the Northfield Arts Guild, so we interviewed her to see how things are going in the present and what she’s looking forward to in the future. We applaud her work thus far and look forward to helping further strengthen the Guild under her leadership. Read on for a transcript of the interview! 

How would you describe the Northfield Arts Guild to people who might not be familiar with it?
The first thing I always tell people is that we’re a multi-disciplinary arts organization – we kind of do it all, from theater to visual arts to music to education. Our current mission is to stimulate artistic activity throughout the greater Northfield area; but we’ve got a brand new mission and vision statement coming soon that I’m really excited about!

Tell us a little about the history of the Northfield Arts Guild.
I’m still learning myself about the history of the Guild, but I know it was started around a dining room table in 1959 by a group of friends interested in doing some theater. And I think that kind of self-starting attitude has sustained and driven the Guild throughout its 56 years. Artists of all disciplines have wanted to create art in the area, and many of them have found a home here at the Guild. Since then, we’ve built a robust visual arts program, including expanding to five different gallery spaces in the last 10 years and facilitating the Riverfront Fine Arts Festival (also started in 1959); have purchased two building spaces, the Theater space on West Third St. and the Downtown office, gallery, and studio space; and have supported numerous artist-led initiatives, like Cannon Valley Regional Orchestra (with the dynamic conductor, Paul Niemisto, at the helm), Riverwalk Market Fair, and others.

Like any arts non-profit, there have been ups and there have been downs. As the organization changes and the community changes, sometimes the two don’t always mesh as tightly as they had before. But I feel like we’re at such an exciting time to reclaim the organization’s leadership role within the community and be the beacon for arts in greater Northfield area that we have always been.

What have you enjoyed most during your first few months as Executive Director?
Stories – can I just say how much I love hearing stories from people and their relationship with the NAG? Even not-so-good stories have lessons that we can learn from, and listening to stories from a wide variety of people has been invaluable. So far it really has been a great experience.

Where would you like to see the Guild go from here?
The Guild has so much potential, both based on its history and where the community currently is at. We’re in the last stages of adopting a new three-year strategic plan, and a few things that have kept coming up have been how we continue to provide the community with high-quality arts experiences simultaneously with serving our community of artists and patrons. Oftentimes those two things – community and quality – are aligned and that’s always the goal, but other times they might not be, depending upon the circumstances. I’d like to see the Guild find a balance between these two and offer folks many entry points into the arts. We do that pretty well already, but there’s definitely room to grow, especially as we start forming partnerships with other organizations in the community and as we strive to make our programming more accessible for our diverse community.

Of course, financial stability of the organization has been a recurring theme ever since the economic downturn. We’re working on making sure we have plans in place with milestones and goals to ensure that we’re actively working at that. The budget has to be a process that we are continually working on and refining. And as I’ve said from the beginning of my tenure – just because we’re a non-profit doesn’t mean we’re no profit :-) Instead of having the perspective of just squeaking by, I’m investigating the different ways that we can shoot for growing our revenue streams so we have breathing room to do the things we need to do!

How can the community help to support that vision?
The community can help support this vision in a variety of ways:

  1. Become a member! Members are our core supporters. Think of membership as your community rent. You want the arts present and available in your community? You think Northfield would be a different place without an organization like the NAG? Pay a small fee each year to ensure this happens AND get some great benefits in return. With a $5 sustaining membership all year, anyone can be a member/supporter of the Guild.
  2. Attend performances, classes and exhibits, and stop on by! We have programming year round and for all ages. And then tell your friends to do the same. Talk us up – word of mouth is key.
  3. Connect with us! We want to help serve our community, and we need to connect with the community (and vice versa) to figure out how to best serve our community. So like us on Facebook, join our mailing list, or just stop on by to say hi at our offices. We are always open to suggestions, feedback, and ideas. Don’t get discouraged if we can’t get to it right away (we’re small!), but know that we appreciate it all and are excited to try new things (we’re mighty in our ambition!).