Meet the new boss of the Edmonton Arts Council!

GigCity Edmonton Paul MoultonIt’s a no-brainer that Paul Moulton has been chosen to be the new executive director of the Edmonton Arts Council – he was the volunteer chairman of the organization when it started in 1996.

“There’s something circular about this,” he says.

You said it, buddy. There always is in this town. Locals in the arts are always running into themselves. In this case, Moulton’s vast experience in Edmonton area arts administration – Arden Theatre, Winspear Centre, St. Albert Heritage, former board member of a dozen local arts and community groups, including the CKUA – will serve him well in administering the arts in Edmonton. Along with support programs and a ticket agency, the EAC gives out $13.5 million in tax money a year to local artists, groups and festivals, including the “per cent for art” rule for public buildings. Every public building shall have art.

Moulton, who will take over for John Mahon on May 6, still had to go through the selection process like everyone else in a nationwide search. He wasn’t even sure he got the job – especially since he had to skype his interviews while on an RV vacation in the American South.

Moulton says, “The last interview we tried I was sitting on a hilltop in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and a big windstorm came up, I thought my trailer was going to blow away. We tried to do video conferencing, but that didn’t work, but we had to do the whole thing on a cell phone, about an hour and a half. I didn’t answer the questions deeply and thoroughly as I wished I had. But the next day they phoned and said, yeah, they want you.”

Instant reaction: “I was delighted. I surprised myself. My reaction was pretty telling. It told me something about how much I wanted it even though I was trying not to want it too much.”

Being on both sides of a board of a not-for-profit group is going to come in handy for the new EAC boss. Working for or being on a board requires a great deal of cooperation, compromise and attention to detail, not to mention all those meetings. It’s not an easy thing to wrangle. The saga of Rhea March and U22 Productions can serve as a cautionary tale.

Prior to 1996, artists and arts groups applied directly to city council for grant money. Mayor Jan Reimer and the council decided to form the “arm’s length” organization that would award grants on based on the decisions of independent peer juries, which in turn are chosen by members of a board of directors populated by experts in various artistic disciplines, along with EAC paid staff, now numbering around 25, and their executive director, from contacts within Edmonton’s arts community. The jury reports to the staff, which reports to the executive director, who reports to the board, which reports to the city, which reports to the taxpayers, in a big circle.

Clear? If it sounds complicated, it’s because they’re trying to be fair.

Moulton remembers that the board started out with a representative from city council. Everyone at the time thought they were going to pick Michael “Mr. Arts” Phair, but instead went with conservative former police chief Leroy Chahley – who was actually against forming the EAC. He turned out to be a mensch.

“He became a great supporter for the organization once he saw the rigor that went into the process of screening applications and awarding grants,” Moulton says. “So he turned around to his colleagues on council and said, ‘you know, these guys do this way better than we ever used to. They need more money and we should believe them.’

“We try to keep the process as fair and transparent as possible to the point that virtually no one feels hard done by when they get their grants.”

Or don’t, as the case may be.