Q&A with NH Business Council for the Arts Executive Director Tricia Soule
Since 2018, Tricia Soule has been executive director of the New Hampshire Business Committee for the Arts, an organization founded in 1985 that advocates for the value of the arts in economic, social and community development and helps people and projects that enhance engagement in the arts.
Soule, whose career began with a stint in the life insurance and mutual funds industry, has since been very much involved in the arts and arts community in New Hampshire, including as owner of the Anderson Soule Gallery in Concord, as a design sales consultant and then as executive director of NH Furniture Masters. She also was development manager at the Currier Museum of Art.
Q. What is the mission of the Business Council for the Arts?
A. Our whole mission is to recognize businesses for their participation in support of the arts. With that in mind, we are really working to develop a sense of community between the business and the arts communities, which oftentimes aren’t thought to maybe understand one another or have much in common.
We break down boundaries between them, get them in the same room together so that they are having a conversation, getting to learn more about what individuals are doing professionally. The whole idea is to try and develop a common language.
Q. What are you doing to accomplish that?
A. We are a membership-based organization, and it’s always been businesses that are members — they are the foundation. But we are expanding upon this idea of bringing together business and arts professionals by introducing two new categories of membership: a membership for artist-entrepreneurs and a membership for arts and cultural organizations. And they’re modest fees. There are different membership benefits that come with it, and all the information is online (nhbca.com) if you want to look at it.
Q. You’ve also launched a series of arts-related networking events.
A. It’s called Artful Networking, and it represents what I’m talking about. There was one at the Hood Museum in Hanover in early March, and last November we did one at Fidelity. You’ve got people in the same room who come from all backgrounds. You might have a banker, you might have an engineer, somebody from a tech startup, someone who works at a museum, an individual artist, and you’re getting these people together who don’t necessarily interact with one another on a regular basis. It creates this very different kind of energy.
There’s always an art experience element to it so that you are now having these people from diverse backgrounds together in the same room having a shared experience through art. I’ll be perfectly frank – I think not everybody loves networking events. If you’re not a real gregarious person it can be difficult. But if you have a shared experience, it makes it a lot easier to have natural conversation and then hopefully you discover, “Gee, maybe there’s a way for us to help one another. I’m an artist. How can I help your business with A, B or C?” or “Oh, you’re an arts and cultural organization, and you might need some help with marketing? Let’s see if we can figure something out.”
Q. The Business and Industry Association is one of the sponsors of the series.
A. I had a meeting with Jim Roche from the BIA back in the fall. It happened to be about a week before the event at Fidelity. It piqued his interest. He joined us and he really seemed to like it a lot. He said, “Tricia, I met a lot of artists and it was really interesting. They think so much differently than I do, and that is so great.” In fact, he said, “I think that the BIA would like to be a sponsor of your artful networking events.”
It’s a win-win. It gives our organization a wonderful platform to be able to connect with his membership, which is really enormous and wonderful. Also, I think, it adds value to their membership, because it’s offering them a unique experience. It’s all about, again, getting people together so that we are building relationships, we are finding new ways to connect with one another and frankly to also help bring along the next leaders, the next business and arts leaders. That’s exciting.
Q. I’ve had the impression that a lot of the organization’s membership is concentrated in the southern part of the state.
A. That’s why it’s very important for us to do outreach to be able to get out into the different regions. There are so many wonderful things happening in the arts around the state and lots of businesses that do support arts in their regions. That’s why we’re trying to bring these Artful Networking events around the state.
Q. Could you talk a little about the impact of the creative economy on New Hampshire?
A. The creative sector contributes $2.3 billion to New Hampshire’s economy every year. That’s right behind the construction industry, which is $2.4 billion. It’s a very impressive number.
Q. How can smaller businesses support the arts?
A. It doesn’t have to be that they can write a big sponsorship check for an event or a program. It can be in-kind services. It can be volunteers who might go and help with a particular event. There are ways to get involved and support the arts in ways that don’t involve money.
Q. A lot of cities are experiencing revitalization, and I think part of it is because they all seem to be attracting more people who, for want of a better word, are in the creative economy.
A. The thing that is really wonderful is that people do recognize the value of the arts in building vibrant communities. It’s important, when the discussion is economic development, to make sure that the arts and artists are part of the conversation early on, so that they’re part of the plan and they don’t get lost in the shuffle as a town or a city flourishes.
Q. The irony is that when a city does begin to flourish, housing prices go up and many people in the arts community are left out.
A. Unfortunately, the people who are, frankly, making a place so cool and hip and exciting can’t necessarily continue to live there because they get priced out of the market. That comes down to making sure that they’re part of the conversation with how things are developed, but also that, speaking to our need as an organization, to help advocate for the whole idea that artists and arts and cultural organizations have to operate like any other business has to operate.
As we think about Portsmouth, it really became what it is because of artists. It’s an amazing, beautiful place that we all love to go to, that attracts people from all over the world. Again, and it’s probably not a popular thing to say, there is that risk of gentrification to a point where those individuals that make it so awesome can’t be part of it on a regular basis.
That’s why you see like a lot of the artists who lived and worked in Portsmouth now are in South Berwick or other towns because they can’t afford to have space. We think of them too often as a nice add-on that makes things enjoyable, but we need to really talk about the investment that needs to happen — and talk about it as an investment, not as support.
Q. What your organization is best known for is the Business in the Arts Awards, which you’ll be presenting this year at the May 13 Arts Awards Gala.
A. This year, with our two new categories of membership, we’ve introduced two new awards categories. We’ve got one called the Artrepreneur, which is being presented by Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health, and that will go to an artist who is partnering with another creative to help grow their business. It doesn’t have to be necessarily about dollars. It can be about awareness. It can be that they’re using technology in a new way to help make their art.
Then we have the Arts Builds Community Award, which is being presented by Northeast Delta Dental and will go to an arts and cultural organization that, again, is about working in partnership with a like-minded cultural organization, for instance, or it can also be with a municipality or another nonprofit that has more of a social cause.
Q. Can you give me some examples from recent years of businesses and what kind of initiatives have been honored over the years?
A. There was one that won the Microenterprise award last year. It went to the art center in Dover that is owned by Rebecca Proctor.
She has a frame shop, but she also has studio spaces for artists, and she’s collaborated with various restaurants and other shops in town. They’re bringing in people to be purchasing and participating in the activities and retail and restaurants and having conversations with artists. There are open studios where artists might be making and people can actually ask questions.