Five Questions With: Shauna Duffy

Recently promoted to executive director of AS220, former Managing Director Shauna Duffy assumed the new solo executive position on Jan. 1, after former Artistic Director Shey Rivera left the nonprofit arts group to pursue artistic endeavors and travel.

For the past three years, Duffy and Rivera led AS220 as co-directors. In that time, Duffy served as managing director, and she has served as treasurer on the board of directors since 2008. Prior to her tenure with AS220, she worked as an audit manager for the Not-For-Profit Services Division at Kahn, Litwin, Renza and Co. Ltd. in Providence.

Duffy holds a bachelor’s degree from Brown University with a dual concentration in music and history, an MBA in global business leadership with a concentration in accounting from Johnson & Wales University and has been a licensed certified public accountant since 2008.

PBN: Known as the All Access campaign, the AS220 fundraising effort is seeking to raise $5 million for improvements to the organization’s Empire Street headquarters. What improvements are needed for the space?

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DUFFY: Most programming spaces at the Empire Street [location] have had piecemeal upgrades over the years, but this will be the first time in 25 years that AS220 has made comprehensive improvements to the building’s entire ecosystem.
We’ll be installing an elevator, making all of our spaces fully accessible for the first time in the building’s history, and adding a gender-neutral bathroom to the restaurant and bar area to ensure we are accessible and inclusive. We’re also going to open up the wall that separates the foyer of the Black Box Theatre from the bar/restaurant, so artists and audiences can flow between the two spaces.

We’ll be restoring the storefront at 95 Empire and creating a window gallery to enhance the streetscape and provide more gallery space for artists. We will be installing improved lighting, audiovisual and sound equipment in our main stage, main gallery and Black Box Theatre to enhance the experience of artwork and performances. We’ll also be adding lots of small improvements that artists have long asked for to enhance the experience for the artists themselves.

There’s also a ton of other improvements being done all over the building. People can find out about everything at as220.org/campaign.

PBN: As of mid-December, how much have you raised toward that goal?

DUFFY: We’ve raised $3.6 million, or 72 percent, of our goal. In particular, we’ve had incredible support from the state of Rhode Island and city of Providence.

PBN: What are the biggest hurdles you’re running into in terms of spreading awareness of the campaign and soliciting donations?

DUFFY: A big hurdle for us is the fact that AS220 does so much [that] … when another thing gets thrown in the mix, even something as vital as the All Access campaign, it can be hard to focus on communicating about it when everything is a priority.
Another issue is overcoming perceptions. A lot of people don’t realize that we’re a nonprofit and donating to us will make a huge impact. Many people look at AS220 and see that we own three buildings downtown, which are full of life and activity, and assume we must be set financially and the thought of giving to us doesn’t enter their minds. We’ve made big strides in the past few years in providing opportunities for individuals to give to AS220, but it remains an area where we can improve in a big way.

PBN: You run a nonprofit organization and are currently underway with a fundraising campaign, what do you think is the current status of philanthropy in Rhode Island?

DUFFY: Being such a small state presents amazing opportunities for fundraising [but] also challenges. We’re lucky Rhode Islanders are so generous and feel incredibly connected to the nonprofits which support their communities and is reflected in their giving. However, we also have a lot of nonprofits competing for a finite pool of resources, which can put the pressure on.

For AS220, we’re honored to have 33 years of history and grassroots support to draw on. Our network of “family” and alumni is far-reaching and ever-expanding. Just in fiscal year 2018, we served [more than] 10,000 artists, let alone the 54,000 people annually who participate in our programming. Because we’ve dedicated ourselves to providing affordable opportunities to so many thousands of artists, creatives and audiences over the years, our grassroots supporters are very open to showing the love and giving back so AS220 can continue supporting others well into the future.

And we’re getting better at asking for the support we need. Rhode Island remains a challenging philanthropic landscape, with limited corporate philanthropy and a small pool of local foundations. But the Rhode Island Foundation is uniquely positioned to make a statewide impact, something that certainly helps make for a cohesive landscape in the way that other states can’t.

PBN: What more can people who are interested do to support the arts in Providence and Rhode Island as a whole?

DUFFY: Get involved! Providence is called the Creative Capital for good reason: There’s so many different arts and culture organizations doing amazing work in the city and across Rhode Island. There are many ways to experience the way art can transform lives – from music to theater and dance, after-school arts programming for kids, to visual art, design and food, these are all forms of creative expression that change communities and connect us as human beings.

What can be better than that? Get out there and try something new! Buy local! Support the artists who make and create in your community.
And don’t forget, your local arts nonprofits always need your support to make their work possible. Participate … and give!

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email, gowdey-backus@pbn.com.