IT’S A GOOD BET that graduates from the Monterey Institute of International Studies have national or international careers in mind. Some of its most promising applicants actually win scholarships to attend. One such was Paulette Lynch, who, after all decided to make Monterey home. But like most MIIS grads, she shifted her gears up and has driven her own career locally with a full head of steam. You can ask her colleagues on any number of projects. Even some who don’t like her because she lets her impatience show have to admit that Paulette is a force that cannot be ignored. “There are so many obstacles to overcome,” she says. Any further doubt is put to rest by her successes as a grant-writer.
In 1993 Lynch founded the annual First Night Monterey that fills the downtown area with performance events on New Years Eve. She held that position until 2002. From 2004 to the present she has served as executive director of the Arts Council for Monterey County. “When I got the job the board couldn’t commit to the long term,” she says. “It felt like a short term project. The mission was still solid even though there were challenges to deal with.” Between First Night and the Arts Council, Lynch worked as an independent consultant, gaining additional experience in family resources, development and “how things work politically.” She’s also been a grantee and a musician—the founding hammered dulcimer player in the five-member Heartstrings Monterey acoustic world-music band. “I knew a lot about everybody, but not as much as I know now.” About her day job, “The deeper I got into it the better it became. I keep finding more ways to serve through the Arts Council.”
Lynch was born in the Boston area then lived up the coast in Lynn. She attended college in Maine. “I had been planning to work as a teacher,” she says. Then Massachusetts passed its own version of California’s Proposition 13, and she went to work in the insurance industry. “Then I got the scholarship at MIIS,” where she completed her master’s degree in 1985. “I was more interested in the work than in the sense of a career.” It was during that time that she decided to make Monterey her permanent home. She had met Ken Peterson, communications director for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and a former newspaper reporter locally. They married in 1986. Their 16-year-old son Gabriel is a student at Monterey High who is active in theater and plays guitar.
Lynch’s “work” has won her widespread recognition. She is the go-to person for nonprofit management, event-planning and volunteer management, community outreach, fundraising, grant-writing, arts education, public speaking and networking. “You have to work hard, stay alert, gathering information, sleuthing. It takes all our energy.” Networking is Lynch’s primary modus operandi. The more she has brought stakeholders together the more convinced she is in its importance. Through the Arts Council she launched an initiative to restore music education in the public schools which helped to accomplish that very thing in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District. “Now again with changes in national and state policies I can’t afford not to know.”
Unlike some who have lost faith during the current crisis of leadership at the Millennium Charter High School in Salinas, Lynch is optimistic. “Millennium has so much good energy,” she says. “I think no matter what happens that mission will be renewed. But it may take a while to right that ship.” On that and other worthy endeavors, “The end is when people don’t care anymore.”
Some nonprofit recipients of the Arts Council’s support are also in transition. Youth Music Monterey County’s board president Dorothy Micheletti is also serving as interim executive director. Likewise Lee Rosen of the Monterey Symphony. “It’s not an optimal situation, from the funder’s perspective,” Lynch says. “For example, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation looks very deeply into those kinds of things, including governance and capacity building. Foundations are not necessarily going to react punitively, but it’s much better to have those roles separated.” Dorothy Wise, board president of the Santa Cruz Symphony relinquished that role when she assumed the executive directorship position—at least temporarily—following the retirement of longtime ED Jan Derecho. “They’re actually very different jobs,” Lynch says. “There’s nothing technically or legally wrong, but when you look at ‘best practices,’ the message is clear. Ideally, the executive director should have a good working relationship with the board but as ex-officio. That way everybody is in the loop.”
Lynch has become a real stickler for accurate record keeping. “It can be pretty funny when people who came here ten years ago think they know everything. Old memories can work for you or against you when you’re working in the moment,” she says. “Our board meetings are chockablock with finance. Our board minutes track everything, how we decided certain things, it’s all in there. When organizations are doing a good job they might want to go back and take another look. It is a solid aspect of our operation.”
At the start of each year the Arts Council holds its Champions of the Arts gala fundraiser, awarding individuals in a variety of categories, including Luminary, Lifetime, and for singular successes. While Lee Rosen has provided a long history of invaluable leadership for the Monterey Symphony, he won an award last month in the Philanthropist category. Candidates are recommended from within the community. “Many have connections with the Council but that’s not how we select them,” she explains. Citing artist Sandra Gray, organizer of the Seaside Artists Tour, she observes that many recipients wear many hats that cross categories.
“When we consider grant applications we look very closely at the applicants. I noticed one nonprofit that didn’t have enough members on its board of directors,” Lynch says. “If there’s something we see that may be a legal issue, it could result in a rejection.”
“I am now seeing more collaborative marketing,” Lynch says with obvious pleasure. “Collective is our work. That’s where so many opportunities are waiting to be discovered.”
She says many arts nonprofits are still insular. “All many of them have to do is partner with other groups. There is so much potential. We’re a lot closer but we’re not there yet.”
Lynch’s sleuthing often involves finding resources that are not in plain view. “When the California Arts Council said they had money for youth at risk, we contacted the county probation department. We’re constantly on the prowl for how we can do what we do with greater impact. We know the arts offer a competitive advantage to students. It’s not just about talking, but embodying possibilities. Our job is literally catalyst, to find all the pieces of the puzzle and what makes them work together.” She cites an inspiring TED Talk by Derek Sivers called How to Start a Movement.
“The Hewlett Foundation made us an intermediary in the last couple of months, a ‘designated partner’ of the arts through a few direct grants. They are providing us with $100,000 for the next three years for our brand new Local Emerging Artists program, grants and consulting for small organizations throughout Monterey County with priority consideration for those who are serving in neighborhoods with limited resources. The LEAP program is for professionals and will be competitive. We’ll select five artists each year and go from there.” The Arts Council website explains LEAP: “Our goals are to recognize artistic excellence, provide direct support to artists who demonstrate they are ready to take their work to a new level, and cultivate public appreciation of the role of artists in our community. Grants up to $2,500 will be awarded annually in visual arts, and performing arts and on a rotating schedule for literary arts, choreography, media arts and composing.”
Lynch’s one regret is that there is so much paperwork that she cannot get to every place in the county “physically” where there are needs. “I’d love to do more consulting. I know that the arts really make everything work better, including our brains.” She sees juvenile justice, veterans in transition, even hospitals as areas in need of what she has to offer. She considers herself lucky to have Berniz House on her staff. “She goes everywhere, works with community groups, including the Spanish language media. She’s a great conduit for us.”
“The real miracle is that anything happens at all,” she muses. “The time, the money, the sheer physical effort, and the obstacles! It’s hard work, always challenging, but I totally know it’s worth it.”
Portrait photo by Kira Godbe
Postscript: The Arts Council is sponsoring an Arts Education Summit, March 12, 8:30am-12:30pm, Embassy Suites, Seaside. Featured speakers are Jeff Poulin, the Arts Education Program Coodinator with Americans for the Arts and Sarah Brothers, the Arts Education Manager with the California Alliance for Education. RSVP HERE