Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Cynthia Buckingham moved to Utah in 1983 to join the Utah Humanities staff. As Executive Director from 1997 to 2017, she championed Utah Humanities’ mission of empowering Utahns to improve their communities through active engagement in the humanities. She has been a long-term member of the Alliance for Unity, a group of Utah business, education, religious, political, and philanthropic leaders that promotes civility and civic engagement in order to bridge divides, the Utah Women’s Forum, and the Utah Civility and Community Initiative. She has served as chair of the Utah Nonprofits Association and vice chair of the national Federation of State Humanities Councils, and was a founding board member and past president of the Utah Cultural Alliance. She is a strong supporter of UCA as a voice and advocate for Utah’s diverse collaborative cultural sector.
Even a year and a half after my retirement, people often ask if I don’t miss work. There are some things I DON’T miss—alarm clocks, audits, meetings, stress–but I DO miss the people.
First, my beloved colleagues at Utah Humanities—both staff and board–who work every day to convene diverse voices to discuss some of the most important issues of the day. The many, many friends who have taught me so much about nonprofit work. And even the new faces, our future leaders.
You are my tribe and I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be here with all of you—thank you so much for this honor!
I am delighted to share the celebration today with my friends Linda Smith, Larry Cesspooch, Max Chang, and Jean Tokuda Irwin!
We are all here because we value a sense of mission and share the desire to make the world a better place. We are a community, but it has not always been this good.
Since you’ve offered this podium in recognition of my status as an elder among us, I hope you’ll indulge me in retelling one of our community’s collective creation stories. We old-timers know it well; for others, it will be part of your initiation.
Gather around the campfire:
Once upon a time, long, long, ago, there was no Utah Cultural Alliance. And as unbelievable as it may seem, there was no ZAP.
The first time the idea for a 1/10 of 1% tax was proposed, it would have benefited primarily a small number of the larger cultural institutions, which pleased a lot of influential people, but too many voters thought it was elitist. It failed the popular vote. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
However, there was also an epiphany: we understood that we had to convince voters that supporting the cultural sector would benefit everyone, not just downtown.
First, we had to persuade the original supporters that it was in everybody’s interest to spread the wealth. This is when the Utah Cultural Alliance was reborn as a working coalition with a broadly defined constituency. Vicki Bourns and Nancy Boskoff were in the lead, and they brought many voices to the table to improve the initiative.
The legislation was rewritten to make the tent much bigger. Not only would many more cultural groups—large and small–qualify for funding, but recreational centers and the zoo were included, creating “Zoo, Arts, and Parks.” Territorial walls came down and everyone agreed to share the proceeds if we could make it happen. Big donors, board members, patrons, and volunteers staffed phone banks alongside soccer moms. Adorable baby animals appeared on billboards all over town. Neighborhoods rallied behind their ballparks and small museums. Hundreds of people gave thousands of hours to spread the word and to get out the vote.
This time, the measure passed easily, with more than 70% in favor. We realized how much power we could wield by joining forces for a common goal—and by sharing the benefits widely and generously.
That was 1996, and both UCA and ZAP now have reigned over Utah’s peaceful and profitable cultural sector for more than two decades.
Will we live happily ever after? It depends on how well we’ve learned the lessons of collaboration, cooperation, and communication.
We need to be in this together. We need to support one another and the whole sector rather than thinking of each other as competitors. We need to continue to build our organizations into stellar models of good management. We need to listen to our diverse partners and provide valuable services and experiences. We need to celebrate each other’s victories. We need to develop great leadership through encouragement, mentoring, and sharing information and wisdom. And we need to train our donors, board members, partners, and audiences to be ambassadors on our behalf, spreading the word about what we can accomplish–together.
I’d say the turnout here today demonstrates our commitment to the common good. This is what it means to be a community, and I’m very proud to have been part of this movement with you! Thank you.