The Leaders Corner - Richard Newirth, City of Vancouver
The urbane and sophisticated exterior of Richard Newirth masks a truly warm and funny man, one whose passion for the arts and the value it adds to the fabric of our community shines through.
Richard was born in New York City, attended university in New England, and got his MBA from Berkeley. He wanted to be an actor -- he did some acting in college -- and then had a choice of an MFA and an MBA. The MBA won, but he took every course offered on not-for-profit management. Before coming to Vancouver, Richard spent 12 years as Director of the San Francisco Arts Commission where he learned the importance of supporting and nurturing staff and relationship building. Nothing like a tough political environment to highlight the importance of a culture based on trust and respect.
In his work with the City of Vancouver, Richard is responsible for the complex cultural community in Vancouver. He has a high-level belief in building sustainable organizations, not just funding programs. This approach has resulted in an innovative bursary program which provides arts organizations access to capacity building workshops and programs through Vantage Point.
Leader: Richard Newirth, Managing Director, Cultural Services
Organization: City of Vancouver
Tenure: 5 years in this job, 7 with the City
Leadership or life motto: Kill ‘em with kindness
Upcoming projects/challenges: Rolling out next phase of implementation of the City of Vancouver’s Cultural Strategy; maintaining sanity until the municipal election; taking a break (just back from Galiano!)
- How would you describe your leadership approach/brand/philosophy?
Coaching. Not in sports kind of way but helping people find their way through to solving problems on their own. Collaboration, empowerment and team work. Being a role model and giving others the opportunity to reach their full potential and grow in their jobs.
- What was your most difficult career decision?
Quitting a secure (mundane) job to go to Berkeley for grad school without knowing where I would land.
- What would your super power be?
I have a strong intuitive sense and the capacity to “read” people, so perhaps ESP.
- What is your greatest fear?
That I will let my staff down.
- What do you value in your colleagues?
Humour, integrity, passion and intelligence. Did I mention humour?
- What keeps you up at night?
How I can support the community of cultural organizations and individual artists, while navigating a complex, often challenging, bureaucracy. Doing the best I can when I know that nothing in government happens overnight. Sometimes it’s hard to have patience.
- What brings you joy?
Reading. And rubbing the belly of a kitten until he rolls over on his back and purrs.
- What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Surviving as Director of Cultural Affairs in San Francisco for twelve years through three mayoral administrations when most department heads were axed as soon as a new Mayor was elected. And turning around an agency that had previously been demoralized and dysfunctional.
- Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Whatever. Seriously, one needs to take most things in life with a grain of salt.
- If you could change one thing about the not-for-profit sector, what would it be?
I would eliminate the scarcity mentality that prevents us from effectively advocating for ourselves, articulating the importance of arts and culture in our lives, and has us fighting over limited resources. As George W. Bush said in one of his classic moments: “Make the pie higher!”