As executive advisor to the Arts Council of New Orleans, a private non-profit established in 1975, Heidi Schmalbach has had to make some very challenging programmatic decisions that impact the life of the Arts Council and her staff. She describes her current position as a consulting job on “strategic plan implementation development grant writing,” but, as she says, “currently, we exist to support, invest in and activate New Orleans culture bearers, artists, and the creative citizenry.”
The Arts Council has two main programs: one is for public art and place making while the other focuses on artist services and advocacy. Part of those two main programs is managing the grant making process for both the city of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana, which provides funds to art and cultural organizations across the city and state. Through her executive advisor position, Schmalbach is able to help out the community of artists by advocating and distributing money to the arts community. She talks about how the Arts Council of New Orleans creates policy recommendations and advocates for “policies that benefit the arts and cultural community in New Orleans.” The policies are set at the city level through city councils as well as the mayor’s office.
Throughout the pandemic, Schmalbach continues to support the people of the arts community. Navigating the pandemic has not been easy. “You have to make really shitty decisions about your staff and your programming,” she says. Through these times, she remains committed to helping people by “continuously offering my emotional support to my friend[s] and colleague[s] and saying, ‘you can vent to me’ or ‘what [can I] do to take something off of your plate?'”
Schmalbach believes that arts and the art culture are essential to daily life. She believes that art is completely part of our identities, and they are intertwined together. She says “you can’t separate them. I can’t at least… I know a lot about the sector, and I believe in it, it sounds cheesy but like: the power of the arts. I just do. I know, I know it in my bones.”