Foundersland: Why we Serve as Board Members

By Marty Sklar, Founder, Past President, Member of the Board of Directors

It may be the most important question anyone who is invited to become a member of an organization’s Board of Directors ever asks: “Why should I serve as a Board member for this organization?” The answer you give will determine whether that’s the place you truly want to commit to serving and representing to the public.

At Ryman Arts, we are blessed with some of the most dedicated and talented Board Members I have ever had the privilege and pleasure to serve with. These 18 individuals represent many backgrounds and experiences – skills they bring to the support of Executive Director Diane Brigham and her staff – all in service to the 600 young artists who participate in our two programs every weekend. The knowledge and advice our Board provides has been an essential ingredient to the success and growth of Ryman Arts through our 25 year history.

Recently I asked our Board of Directors to respond to this question: “Why I serve as a Board Member for Ryman Arts”. I received so many thoughtful, enthusiastic and important responses that I have had to divide their messages into two parts; the second nine will appear in my April Foundersland blog.

Our new President, Wayne Hunt, has the honor of the first response to that question: “Why I serve as a Board Member for Ryman Arts”.

Wayne Hunt
Founding Partner, Hunt Design
Adjunct Professor of Design, Art Center College of Design

Aside from my parents, the most significant influence in my life was a high school art teacher. His insight and teaching went way beyond the finite skills of drawing and painting — he showed us the value and importance of art, music and culture in daily life. His lasting contribution was teaching us how to see and interpret the world with clarity and conviction.

But today, there are very few teachers left like him; thousands and thousands of interested and talented kids have little or no opportunity for any arts education — they miss this eye-opening, worldview-changing experience.

Ryman Arts fills this need. The great teachers of Ryman Arts train and inspire kids the way I was taught and inspired. It changed my life. I want to help others change theirs.

Michelle Lund
President, Board of Directors, The Sharon D. Lund Foundation

I serve as Board Member because I truly believe in the cause. My mother helped start this program and was an integral part of its success. I look at today’s school programs and how they are getting slashed left and right. Where is the creativity going to go without art? The students that get to take these classes are blessed with talent and we as a Board and I as a Board Member get to be a part of that adventure. I think it is up to us to help keep the art flame alive. I am very humbled by these students that come from all walks of life, as they share their talent with the rest of us. I serve as member because I want to be a part of the progression for art. I would hate for the talent that these kids have to be wasted and left to flounder. They deserve the chance to shine like all the rest of us do. That is why I serve on this board.

Jeff Ganter
Owner/President, Eleventh Hour, Inc.

In my line of work, I have the privilege of meeting and interviewing artists every day, from entry level to senior level, assisting them with direction in their careers.  When I was introduced to Ryman Arts through a colleague, everything clicked into place for me.  I found my purpose. 

Through the tireless work of our executive director Diane Brigham along with our diverse board of directors, it is an honor for me to have the ability to assist Ryman with providing another level of guidance and support to these amazing students. 

There is nothing greater than watching Ryman Arts Graduation and the smiles, gratitude and pure love the students have for the accomplishments they have achieved on their own.  Ryman has allowed them to find their purpose. 

Christina Saucedo, Alumni Representative

It was important for me to apply for the position as Alumni Representative on the Ryman Arts board because Ryman means a lot to me and has been in my life for 10 years now! I've gone through Ryman as a student and Teacher's Assistant; it seemed like the right next step for me to take so I can still be involved in an organization that has personally done so much for me.

Being a Ryman Arts student helped me to not only push my artwork to a new level but the weekly classes also taught me how to talk about my artwork, meet peers with similar interests and gave me skills that led me to be accepted into Otis. Going into Otis right after high school and Ryman, I couldn't believe how exactly the same my foundation classes were to my Ryman classes. Exactly the same! While my friends in life drawing were nervous about drawing a nude figure for the first time, it came easy for me since I had done that at Ryman already. Also the level at which I was expected to work at Ryman had already prepared me for the work load, class assignments and expectations of college courses. Before Ryman, I didn't even know going to art school was a thing. Because of how I was raised, I knew college was the next step but I didn't know about art schools until college day at Ryman, where I did a portfolio review and got a fee waiver for Otis which helped a lot coming from a single parent home.

Being a Teacher's Assistant for Ryman, I was able to interact more with the students on a different level and saw myself in many of them and the questions they would ask me. Many of the concerns being how to pay for college, which is why Ryman being offered for free to those who get accepted is an amazing opportunity to young students and an opportunity my family and I will always be appreciative of. My mom is the first one to remind me that I'll be donating money to Ryman once I make my millions so for now it's ok if I can only do the $50 gifts.

Now as an adult trying to navigate my way through life, I find that Ryman and the staff even as they grow are still able to maintain a family atmosphere and still support me as well as many other Ryman alumni. Being put into situations that I normally wouldn't be in, public speaking at graduation, helping Diane during one of her workshops at the Arts Education Conference, working with members of the board... these are all things that I feel are only helping to shape who I am and make me a more confident person and I know that many other students and alumni feel exactly the same way.

Eddie Newquist
EVP, Chief Creative Officer, Global Experience Specialists (GES)

I have been blessed with the opportunity to produce creative projects all over the world. The teams and companies I work with constantly remind me of the value of passion, imagination and the arts. My creative journey began with the support of loving parents and inspiring teachers. They encouraged me to draw, design, direct, invent and explore.  Schools and budgets have changed since I was a student. 

My four children do not have access to the same creative arts programs that I once did.  The need is there  . . . but the budgets and programs are not. For 25 years Ryman Arts has provided the fuel to fire the imaginations and talents of passionate students. The look in their eyes at graduation is unforgettable. I am very proud to be part of an organization that helps young people begin their creative journeys.

Marshall Nalle Ayers
Founding Executive Director, Ryman Arts

For me, Ryman is family. Yes, I’m a passionate arts education advocate. Yes, I believe that we are filling a significant gap in our educational system. Yes, I believe we are preparing the next generation of talent. But fundamentally over the past 25 years, first as the founding Executive Director and then as a Board Member, I have had a deeply personal connection to Ryman Arts as I simultaneously developed and nurtured the program while starting my own family.

The arts are a core value instilled in me by my parents, my education and early career, so it seemed natural to me when we began the program to approach our studio practice in the same way. We started small and from our earliest days we worked to create a learning environment where our Ryman students felt part of something special. Where they came from, what they looked like, or what language they spoke was irrelevant. They belonged. The quality of the artwork and a deep level of commitment were paramount for everyone involved. The teachers and I were very hands-on. Our students mattered to us and they knew they mattered. They knew their talents and dreams would be respected and supported. We gave them real tools, real studio instruction, and real faith in their ability to meet a high bar. First, do the work. No excuses. Put in the time and the rewards will come. And they did. They saw the results for themselves and their pride and self-confidence soared. We told them that finding themselves as artists and people was our mission. We demanded their best effort and gave them our full attention. If something wasn’t working in the curriculum, we fixed it. It was okay to make mistakes because that's what artists do. If someone needed to talk after class, we listened. We were family. And we carry close bonds to this day.

It worked. And 25 years later it still works. I serve on the board because every Ryman student has the potential to make a fulfilling life in the arts and beyond. As I watch our alumni mature, develop their talents, build their own lives and fulfill that promise I am in awe. It is that simple and that important.

Ed Nowak
Deputy General Counsel, The Walt Disney Company
President and Vice-Chair, Los Angeles Children’s Chorus

Herb Ryman understood, encouraged the need for grounding in the basics of technique and the basics of seeing. He knew that passing on that understanding was essential for the flowering of real creativity. It is that basic understanding that enables the passing on from generation to generation the deepest, the best of what informs any individual, new contributions to art, beauty and communication. This tradition is what Ryman Arts sustains. It is what drew me to the Ryman mission.

Any such organization in our era, though, must navigate among shoals of competing constraints on funding, independence, and responsibilities to donors and the public. My attraction to service on its board was the opportunity to keep an eye and a hand on the oars pulling to keep off the reefs. We want to keep the way clear for Ryman Arts to keep to its mission.

Chuck Fry
President, Vista Communities, Inc.

Teaching young artists, Transforming lives.   This is the motto of Ryman Arts and is the inspiration of what drew me to Ryman Arts over 15 years ago.  I had been involved with supporting the visual arts through other nonprofit arts organizations and our local museums before learning about Ryman Arts.  With the decline in arts education throughout the state I saw that many talented youth were being left behind and had nowhere to go to get arts education.  After I became involved with the Orange County Ryman Arts Pilot Program in 2001, I learned that the program was so much more than just arts education, it truly transforms lives.  Watching our new students step on to a college campus, many of them for the first time, is a truly inspiring scene.  Less than ½ of our students would be college bound before Ryman Arts and after completing the program over 95% of our students go on to college.  Many of them receive grants and scholarships for their exceptional talents that have been developed and nurtured at Ryman Arts.   Our alumni become an important part of the creative economy in Southern California and beyond, I am grateful for the opportunity to help these young artists grow and develop their skills.

Leah Sklar
Community Advocate
Founder, Ryman Arts

When Herb Ryman passed away it was like losing a dear member of the family, and we felt strongly that we needed to find the appropriate way to ensure that what was so special about him would stay alive.  Sharon Lund, Buzz and Anne Price and Marty and I got together to talk about Herbie – what was important to him, and what made him important to all who knew him.  It didn’t take us very long to realize that the strong motifs in his life were mentorship, a conviction that classical drawing and painting skills were the keystone to art education, and the belief that art education should start with the young.  We decided that we would start with one small class and see where it took us.

Once we had the approval of Herb’s sister, Lucille Ryman Carroll, for our idea, we were off and running toward our goal of providing the sort of art education Herbie believed in …and we’ve been running ever since!  Being a part of the Board has meant being involved in helping our program grow, seeing the amazing accomplishments of our students, and working with the dedicated staff and faculty who have made it all possible. It’s been an amazing 25 years!


Messages from nine more Ryman Arts Board members will appear in the April Foundersland blog.