Seattle Arts & Lectures has begun the search for its next leader after the departure last week of executive director Linda Bowers. Bowers joined the organization initially as an interim director. As she liked to say, she went to work for SAL for five months and stayed for five years. No specific word about what she's going off to do; she's leaving to "explore new opportunities."
As executive director, Bowers was responsible for this season's amazing line-up of lectures, as well as overseeing the organization's poetry and educational programs, but there were no big changes or exciting new initiatives launched during Bowers's tenure. SAL Board President Mary Ingraham says the organization is looking for someone with a lot of creative ideas about SAL's future. Even as the world has rapidly changed around the 25-year-old literary institution, the institution itself stayed relatively still. "As we anticipate the next 25 years, it is time to re-imagine our role in the community," Ingraham says. In light of e-books, Facebook, and Twitter, she says, "How do we uphold our tradition of honoring the written word? How do we nurture the readers and writers of the future? And how do we do all of these things in a manner than complements—not competes with—the accelerated rhythms of our daily lives?"
Asked yesterday by phone what sort of candidate they're looking for, Ingraham said, "The board's looking at it from an extremely open-minded perspective." Asked whether the board will figure out a vision for the future of the organization and then hire someone to carry that out, or whether they'll hire someone on the strength of their ideas for where to take the organization, Ingraham said, "We need to find a middle ground there. We haven't even started to look. We're looking at, 'Where are we going?' And then maybe that'll show us more about who it is that needs to lead it."
Some unsolicited advice: Make the audio (and transcripts) of the past 25 years worth of lectures available (and publish those transcripts); have an entire publishing arm of the organization (a journal of some sort, even if it's online-only); use Twitter to call attention to that older material the way The Paris Review does; get money into the pockets of working writers by commissioning new works from local writers and scholars constantly; give out writing prizes; have different moderators/interviewers at lectures, specialists in the writer's work, rather than always letting the ED do it; throw more parties for writers; provide residencies for working writers; start a series of lectures delivered only by people under the age of 35, and do it in a bar; and put Rebecca Hoogs, who's done an amazing job with the Poetry Series, in charge of everything.