Benny Welter-Nolan

2023 Invisible Champion Award - Nova Scotia/Halifax

Nominator Comments:

In 2021, Benny was intentional in recruiting the most diverse set of board members representing equity deserving and seeking members (including Mi’kmaw, African NS, Chinese newcomer and diaspora, and a spectrum of LGBTQIIA2+) to represent members in the art community that has not been represented in board leadership in the history of Visual Arts Nova Scotia. Its membership primarily reflected a caucasian, middle-aged, middle-class cisgendered female demographic, and Benny has delivered multiple programs that supported and prioritized underserved equity-deserving artists and uplifted them whether in its art programming or our only Atlantic-wide art publication. Social justice and change is taxing and tiring for all involved. After a really intense strategic planning retreat in November 2021, Benny brought forth a significant shift in the organization’s direction in its values (focused in equity, sustainability and connection) and has already implemented policies and actions to reflect the change (such as hiring POC into a permanent position and creating a meal & childcare honorarium system for committee members to compensate for their time). Although an equity-deserving, intersectional leader, Benny is creating a transitional leadership process to support the organization’s next leadership hire for a BIPOC emerging leader to spearhead this next phase of VANS’ growth and direction. Benny has created a succession plan by applying for development funds to support VANS in developing a robust leadership transition plan that will become iterative and shared. This project was initiated by Benny and led to partnering with multiple equity-centered organizations such as (P4G and Inspiring Communities) which will include multiple case studies of non-profits facing the same dilemma, needing a succession plan and long-term roadmap for board and executive director leadership with equity-deserving leaders entering a predominantly white, cisgendered leadership landscape. Many BIPOC leaders have entered the workforce in new leadership positions only to leave burnt out and re-traumatized by systemic oppression and barriers to access. The outcome will not only recruit an emerging BIPOC leader for VANS and other non-profits, but will create the required conditions for them to succeed. Their goal is to create an organizational mind-shift, as well as creating opportunities for equity-deserving leaders to feel supported in their role to create longevity in their inevitable impact and strengthening their ability to serve in community. Benny was one of the catalyzers and the one spearheading the call to no more funding cuts to the arts and cultural sector (in HRM) and advocated for the wellbeing of the community. Benny and many other cultural leaders educated the council that this would impact the community negatively and create a ripple effect throughout the province based on its decision. The therapeutic nature of recreation, culture, sense of belonging and healing through the arts was demonstrated throughout the pandemic and it served the most vulnerable in our communities.

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