Call Cathy Malloy a determined drum-beater for the arts.
In a luncheon interview around the corner from the council's Pearl street Hartford office, Malloy presents verbal power points in support of the arts with the gusto of a candidate on a stump speech.
In a way, her job is to campaign for the 140 arts, cultural and historical groups in the 34 cities and towns in the region as she raises funds from corporations, government and individuals through work-place giving. But she's also in charge of a 41-year-old organization trying to broaden its impact as an advocate and mobilizer for the arts.
Campaigning is an activity she knows well as the wife of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy but also sensitive to its pitfalls. She was criticized for remarks she made at a panel on how to get more women to participate in politics saying that people don't appreciate people in pubic life as they should. She later apologized.
Cathy Malloy goes to countless arts and cultural events — many with her husband — and that extra spotlight on the arts is priceless in the view of many arts leaders who have felt the arts have not been rewarded for the economic impact it produces.
A little more than a year after she was hired for the job, succeeding Kate Bolduc's two-year tenure, Malloy is eager to talk about arts events she's attended (she mentions Hartford Stage, HartBeat Ensemble and TheaterWorks) and her role as saleswoman for the arts, with little room for a breath or a bite of her spinach salad.
"My husband and I have been involved in the arts for a very long time," says Malloy with a husky, straight-shooting Peggy Cass-sounding-voice that hints at her Needham, Mass., roots. "We collect art and paintings from estate sales. We have always gone to the theater. In my family, my brother ran a community theater and my twin sister and I were in all the plays."
Her role as arts executive follows her position as executive director of The Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education in Hartford, which she ran for more than 10 years. From 1996 to 1999 she was vice president of development and campaign director for the United Way of Stamford/Greenwich.
"I was blown away from what I saw was happening around Hartford," she says. "We really have great product here and that's what we're doing. Raising awareness. Selling a product."
Bolduc established a long-term strategic plan for the arts organization before she left and the council is beginning to implement it, says Malloy. It has just completed reorganizing its board — creating a smaller and more pro-active executive committee — and it is starting to look at the way it hands out its grants with input from its membership and the community.
She says "we will never move away from [giving] unrestricted dollars" to organizations because it's vital for groups to have a source of grant money to pay for basic operating expenses, such as fixing a roof, or electricity or insurance.
"[But] we don't want to be viewed as just a pocketbook," she says. "We want to be viewed as a partner first and foremost and having some value-added [to the organizations it serves.]"
Though she sees the council as an organization that can bring arts groups together "for conversation," she says joint efforts aren't as easy as they might seem, referring to efforts to consolidate "back of office" functions such as ticketing, insurance and purchasing.
"The biggest challenge is audience development and it's a national problem," she says. "It's a problem with our culture."
The arts council, the largest in New England, also faces the changing dynamic of corporations and the overall economy.
"Corporate leadership is very different now," she says, saying the community connection for some — though not all — "isn't as strong as it once was."
Indeed, corporate funding has plummeted from 58 percent of the council's annual income 10 years ago to 28 percent in the 2011 campaign. (The 2012 campaign continues through the end of the year. Last year it raised $3.3 million in cash, not counting $1 million of in-kind services donated, which have been counted in past campaigns.)
The council has seen fundraising growth from 14 percent to 28 percent of its total from workplace giving, but Malloy is cautious. "There is some growth but ... the trends are showing that you can't put all your eggs in the workplace basket."
So where will the money come from for the council's annual arts campaign, one of the 10 largest in the country?
Malloy says there may be opportunities in alliances with other organizations such as hospitals, which may have an interest in the arts as it relates to behavioral health.
"But whatever you come up it has to be strategic, that there's legs to it and it's in line with our organization," she says. "Right now we're researching like crazy all over the place, trying to find more money. That's what we're doing every day. But the problem with those grants is that they tend not to be unrestricted."
When asked how she feels about her new role, she says "I love it. I have a really great staff. We're all really engaged. We're at about 16 and we really should be about 19 employees, with more needed on the development side. But right now we're really trying to be tight as we get through this budget process. We don't want to talk about anything really new because we don't have the money to execute it. Our main priority right now is to be stable and steady for the arts.
"But [at some point] we would like to develop a pocket of money for innovation. We think that's really critical and something we're really interested in. I'd like to see if I can get a start-up contribution from somebody, even if it's just $100,000 and put it in a pot, just for innovation."
Malloy says she feels a kinship with other new arts leaders who arrived at the same time she did to Hartford: Carolyn Kuan, music director of the Hartford Symphony; and Darko Tresnjak, artistic director at the Hartford Stage, among them.
"We came in here wanting to make a difference and we're all from the outside," she says.
"In Hartford, there's so much possibility. Right now, for whatever reason, we really see it happening and it's a very exciting time — the combination of people and energy and people wanting it to happen. It just seems as if it going to happen now. We have a great product and you can;t beat that. The best news is that I have something great to sell."
For Information about the Greater Hartford Arts see http://www.letsgoarts.org.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at