Editor’s note: This piece is one of an occasional series on nonprofit leaders in Milwaukee. The responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Terry Murphy joined ArtWorks for Milwaukee as executive director in 2012, after a similar role at an arts program in Michigan. ArtWorks for Milwaukee offers internships that link area high school students with professional artists. Two years ago, ArtWorks received the largest grant in the program’s 15-year existence, which increased the number of teens eligible for internships.
Q: Why is art important when it comes to young people?
A: Art is something that can knock down barriers. It helps with self-expression, reflection and creativity. When we have a group project, the interns can focus on problem solving and developing innovative thoughts through collaboration — things that are very important in today’s working world.
Q: How has your group affected the Milwaukee art community?
A: Since 2001, we have had over 800 high school students in our programs. Some have had interest in pursuing careers in the arts and others have not. Our programs use the arts to engage students to help them develop transferable art skills for the workforce. We see our former interns out in various parts of the community doing all sorts of great things. We recently invited 15 alumni to come back and share their stories with our interns to show how they can use their experience to advance their careers.
Q: What kinds of decisions do you have to make as a nonprofit leader?
A: The most important decision that I make is finding the right type of program to offer our youth. The decision is driven by our mission. If we’re not offering programs that help our youth, then we have no business being here. I keep that in mind for every decision I have to make for this organization, whether it’s the types of grants we ask for, or the types of partners we pursue.
Q: Where do the “big” ideas come from in the organization?
A: The ideas for the internships we offer our youth come from all over the organization. We’re lucky to have a great program manager and program coordinator as well as a wonderful board of directors. It really revolves around being open to new ideas anyone within the organization may have. It could be a neighborhood association asking to do a piece of public art. Maybe we want to teach our teens video skills, so we develop a video internship position. There are so many possibilities and we try to be open to all of them.
Q: How do you allocate your time?
A: I spend a lot of my time connecting with my colleagues, the other executive directors in the city. I get involved in initiatives especially the collaborative ones like Beyond the Bell and Milwaukee Succeeds. Whenever I can meet with other youth-serving leaders or Milwaukee-serving organizations, I try to attend. I think it’s important for nonprofit leaders to connect with the rest of the community.
Q: How do you measure the success of your program?
A: We’re always evaluating the ways we can measure and get a sense of our success. How many volunteers were able to engage with the youth? How does the staff feel about the program? Those things are important to me and the whole organization. We look for feedback whenever we can through our funders, interns, lead artists and the rest of the staff. We’re always incorporating feedback so we can keep our organization vibrant.