by Chamidae Ford
4Culture recently announced Nina Yarbrough will be their next arts program director. Yarbrough will begin her new role this September after she finishes her duties as the business development manager for the Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas.
According to a press release from 4Culture, the position is a senior leadership role that “oversee[s] the development, implementation, and evaluation of our arts funding programs and serves as a liaison to the King County arts community.”
Yarbrough, a Cincinnati, Ohio native, moved to Seattle in 2014 to get her master’s in arts leadership from Seattle University. As a writer, playwright, and performer, Yarbrough has always had a passion for the theater. She approached her M.F.A. program as a way to improve her artistry, but along the way, it broadened her understanding of the financial aspects of the arts world.
“When I learned what fundraising was and what it meant in relation to being a good leader, that’s when I realized, ‘Oh, if I actually want to excel, in any direction in my career, whether I want to lead an arts organization or whether or not I would be [an] artist who owns all their own work, [I will need to know how to raise money],” Yarbrough said in an interview with the Emerald. “So I got into the industry so that I can learn what it’s about. And for the past five years, I have been doing just that. Understanding ‘What does it mean to try and resource an organization?’”
Since coming to Seattle, Yarbrough has worked for the Seattle Opera, Central District Forum for Arts and Ideas, and 4Culture’s Recovery Task Force, allowing her to see fundraising and philanthropy on all scales.
“I’ve been fortunate to be able to see how arts and cultural institutions operate at all levels. In order for that to happen, your mission has to be on point, but also you have to be able to resource and fund that mission. And that’s what I’ve been doing,” Yarbough said. “As I move into this new position, my hope is that I’m able to bring not only my ability to understand what it takes for organizations to go through that but my desire and willingness to help change the way that money is distributed.”
Through this role, Yarbrough wants to focus on dismantling the systems of white supremacy that have long kept BIPOC and LGBTQ+ members from receiving the funding they deserve.
“I have no illusions that I’m going to walk into this position and somehow am going to dismantle racism in philanthropy in the United States. I know this is not going to happen,” Yarbrough said. “But I’ll be another voice there, along with my 4Culture colleagues, along with Brian and Josh, who are going to help to champion for the kind of change that we all want.”
For Yarbrough, that process of unlearning and dismantling systems of oppression begins internally.
“I am mired in the same system of white supremacy as anybody else. So that means I have learned certain habits and practices. I have internalized white supremacy and cultural norms,” Yarbrough said. “My life’s work is to constantly undo those norms in myself and decolonize my own mindset. And so by doing my own work, I’m able to, I think, bring that perspective into what I hope to accomplish in partnership with my 4Culture colleagues and my soon-to-be family members. I can’t uplift and support my own people if I’m not working for my own liberation.”
As Yarbrough has spent her post-M.F.A. career immersed in the fundraising sector of the arts world, she has observed and experienced the type of leader she wants to emulate as she steps into her new role. For a long time, she viewed herself as a “servant leader” but has recently turned towards a more collaborative leadership approach.
“When I reflect on the moments where I felt most taken care of, when I felt heard and really felt connected to whatever work I was doing, it’s because I knew that if there was an issue I would be listened to, I would be taken seriously. And even if my suggestions weren’t taken to her, I knew that I was at least being seriously considered,” Yarbrough said. “My current executive director, Sharon Williams, has been one of those folks for the past three years; she’s built a company where it is a norm. It is a cultural norm that you show up as yourself, and you get to embrace all aspects of who you are. And I plan to do that [too].”
As Yarbrough transitions into this new role, she feels not only excited but hopeful about what is to come.
“I am optimistic,” Yarbrough said. “Optimism to me means that I can see light at the end of the tunnel. I just don’t know how long the tunnel is. But if you just keep moving forward, we will get to a place that does feel more liberated, that does feel more just.”
Executive Director Brian J. Carter stressed in the press release that Yarbrough will push 4Culture into an inclusive and financially stable future.
“Nina brings a contagious energy and an innovative intellect to 4Culture. She will undoubtedly use these qualities to help the cultural sector recover from the impacts of the pandemic and spur its necessary evolution to be more accessible, inclusive, and equitable,” Carter said.
Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
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