Q&A with Grace Celestina Stanislaus, AARCH Society’s New Interim Manager
1. What would you like the Frederick County community to know about you?
My professional career has been fueled by a passion and commitment to support mission-driven organizations like the AARCH Society that are focused on preserving, presenting, displaying, and celebrating the contributions of African Americans and people of African descent to history, art, and world culture. And to ensuring that the often overlooked and omitted stories they tell reach broad and diverse audiences. I’ve worked with organizations at different ages and stages of development as a curator, Executive Director, CEO, President,Vice President, Board member, advisory Board member and management consultant. Some of those include the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Museum for African Art, Romare Bearden Foundation, Museum of the African Diaspora, National Black Arts Festival, Weeksville Heritage Center and the August Wilson Center.
And I realize that in this long career trajectory, I continue to be drawn to organizations that are dedicated to telling compelling stories, like the stories AARCH has been telling for over two decades about the presence, contributions, and impact of African Americans in Frederick County. My professional interest and passion in turn has been fueled by my personal life story. I’m a child and a product of the immigrant experience. I am one of seven children born on the small island of Carriacou, a sister island to Grenada. We came to the United States when I was a child, and I was raised by my single mother when my father died unexpectedly. From her, I learned life lessons about hard work, the power of love and sacrifice, and about resiliency. These lessons have shaped my personal worldview and defined my professional interests.
2. You have extensive experience in the administration and operations of museums and nonprofit organizations that celebrate the heritage and artistry of African Americans. How will you be able to bring your talents to help Frederick’s AARCH Society transition from an all-volunteer organization to one that is professionally run?
I’ve accumulated knowledge about African American and African art, artists, history, heritage, and culture as well as about the standards, requirements, and best practices of nonprofits over several decades of working for and with nonprofits, primarily arts and culture organizations. I’m especially excited about my work with AARCH during this period as it launches into the next phase of organizational development and growth with an expansive, dynamic, and ambitious vision. I can’t think of a better time, with the projected opening of the new Heritage Center in 2023, to apply my skills, experience, and expertise accumulated over three decades and to partner with AARCH’s leadership to fulfill its broader mission in the Heritage Center.
I’ve directed and managed several organizations in transition, whether they’re expanding, re-trenching, reorganizing, scaling up or down operationally or programmatically. It’s during periods of transition that I think that my knowledge of all aspects of nonprofit operations is most useful. Those include: administration, management, governance, financial management, resource development/fundraising – specifically arts and culture related, program planning, development and assessment, and board and staff development and training. And it will certainly be fulfilling to see how our plans to strengthen AARCH’s organizational foundation bear fruit now and in the future.
3. How would you describe your role as AARCH’s Interim Manager?
My role as Interim Manager is to manage the day-to-day operation of the Society and, in partnership with the leadership, define and develop the operational, administrative, and programmatic framework and infrastructure of the Heritage Center. My assessment is that AARCH’s leadership has made a good strategic decision to bring me on board during the period when the operational and programmatic foundation is being laid for the new Heritage Center. I think of myself as the bridge from where AARCH is today to where it envisions being in the next few years. We’re pouring and preparing a strong foundation to realize the vision of the late educator and Alderman Mr. William O. Lee Jr. and those dedicated founders and stakeholders who have carried forth his vision. At the same time, we are making sure the foundation is ready and strong when a permanent Executive
Director is hired.
4. What are the challenges ahead for AARCH?
The pandemic has put a spotlight on the vulnerability of many of our nonprofits, whether they have small or large budgets, are staffed or volunteer-run, have modest or no operating reserves or endowments. The challenges facing AARCH now and as it expands into the Heritage Center are the same challenges that have historically faced nonprofits whether they are focused on the visual and performing arts, heritage, history, or culture broadly. The primary issue is whether they’re established on a strong enough operational and programmatic foundation to withstand unexpected external threats and social calamities and unplanned-for transitions within the organization. One example is when the executive leader departs unexpectedly. And whether they have the human and financial resources, the funding, loyal membership, donor base, and community support to be sustainable–short or long term.
What I’ve learned over the years about nonprofits and about a quality that’s required in nonprofit leaders, especially leaders running under-resourced organizations in the arts and culture sector, is that when the mission is worthy, when it’s undergirded by strong core values and principals and the organization is committed to serving its communities, we know how to roll up our sleeves, adapt, pivot and, as the saying goes, learn to “make lemonade out of lemons.” Resiliency is at the heart of it.
There will always be challenges. But we’ve learned to find ways to turn them into opportunities. This is especially true during this period – a period when a bounty of opportunities for mission-driven and worthy organizations like AARCH is on the horizon. Even with the societal challenges we’re currently facing, this period is marked by extraordinary promise, potential, and opportunities. A new African American Heritage Center is emerging in Frederick County even during and despite a health and social crisis. This is an extraordinary story! Because of the dedication and hard work of its founders, stewards, champions, volunteers, funders, and supporters, AARCH is ready to take advantage of every opportunity. Because of the generosity of the City of Frederick, AARCH is poised and ready to expand its mission and reach and ready to impact the community in a new permanent home.
5. What types of strategies do you expect AARCH will need to undertake to build the capital and support needed to take AARCH to this level?
The Society will continue to provide its core programs and services and to do what it currently does well and is valued for in Frederick County. Its volunteers on the Board of Directors, on working committees, and in the community are the centerpiece and the heart of AARCH’s story. This level of volunteerism is extraordinary and one of the hallmarks of AARCH’s success and longevity. But as plans for the Heritage Center are being conceived, designed, and developed in anticipation of the opening in 2023, it’s clear that we’ll also need to be focused on defining multipronged and multitiered strategies to build and sustain an expanded base of support from foundations, corporations, government agencies, businesses, and individuals. There’s no question this is made more difficult by the pandemic and other social ills we’re presently facing. But while the goal is ambitious, the cause is worthy. And this will be the moment to apply the lessons learned from making lemonade out of lemons.
AARCH has had and continues to have wonderful and mutually beneficial partnerships. Strategic partnerships based on an aligned mission and shared goals is one among several strategies that will support AARCH’s expanded vision. Of course, the kinds of robust, dynamic, and engaging programs that are being planned for the Center will support a broader and more expansive fundraising effort to secure grants and contributions from local and regional funders for the capital building project and to expand human capacity with the anticipated hire of key staff. So far, the Society has seen increased success in realizing the goal of expanding its base of support from grant funders and from the County, City, and State government. These are some of the pillars that AARCH needs to continue to build and strengthen the organization. Another pillar AARCH needs is to effectively communicate and market the Society’s compelling mission in order to retain loyal supporters and members and attract new supporters. These are a few of the multipronged and strategic approaches that AARCH will need and will implement at this critical juncture.
AARCH READS knows that storybooks have the power to awaken children to both the glories and the challenges life presents. AARCH READS presents video recordings of storybook readings that explore the culture, history, and beauty of being Black — as well as the challenges Black people face every day. AARCH READS targets young children, but the stories we share resonate with listeners of all ages. Our content addresses diverse subject matter and finds relevance for groups in many settings, from children in elementary school classrooms to families seated around the kitchen table.
Link: AARCH READS
The AARCH Society of Frederick County is pleased to announce Part I of a 2-part new documentary, Frederick’s March for Justice: The Vision. The short film highlights the 2020 March for Justice in Frederick, a response by the local community to the murder of George Floyd and the deaths and suffering of other people of color at the hands of law enforcement.
A small group of young activists organized Frederick’s first March for Justice; it took place June 5, 2020, eleven days after Mr. Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis. The documentary’s creator Malcolm Brown, an AARCH volunteer and videographer, filmed march organizers and participants, as well as city and county officials for the two-part documentary, which explores how ideas can become a reality and draw a community together in the digital age. Interviews were conducted by AARCH board members Sonja Brown-Jenkins and Barbara Thompson.
Part I – Frederick’s March for Justice: The Vision will air for the first time on Monday, January 18, to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The link is below.
Our Heritage Center opens in 2023. We want you to be a part of making it happen, and we want you there when the doors open. Join Us!
The dream of establishing a permanent home for the African American Resources-Cultural and Heritage Society (AARCH) is nearing fruition. Two decades in the making, it fulfills former Alderman William O. Lee’s vision. The new Heritage Center will be a vibrant place to tell the underrepresented story of Frederick’s African American community.
It’s an important story that needs to be told.
The City of Frederick has offered AARCH a lease for a 3,200 square foot facility at the former Cycle Fit establishment. It is ideally situated near the Frederick Visitor Center, the Delaplaine Arts Center, and the Sky Stage. It adds another prominent destination for heritage tourism.
The Heritage Center will include permanent exhibit space, a multi-purpose area suitable for theater/meeting space, and research and archival facilities. It will showcase local artifacts and feature first-hand accounts of Frederick’s living treasures, local African American residents 90 years old or older. Planning is underway, targeting a grand opening in 2023.
- Architectural redesign
- Exhibit and media planning
- Exhibit and media production & installation
- Building renovation
- Archival storage
- Technology purchases
- Furnishings and equipment
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AARCH Society PO Box 3903 Frederick, MD 21705