Fresh from Ohio, she builds city’s artistic side
By Jessica Laskey
Megan Van Voorhis loves how she can sit outside on her balcony in the middle of winter. The city’s new cultural services and creative economy manager moved to Downtown from Cleveland last September. The Northern California climate made a positive impression.
“I’m so used to the cold and the snow, I love that I now get this beautiful weather,” says Van Voorhis, who has spent more than a decade examining the role of arts and culture across multiple sectors. She served as president and CEO of Arts Cleveland, a nonprofit community partnership created to advance arts and culture in Cuyahoga County.
In Ohio, Van Voorhis launched new programs such as the Artist as an Entrepreneur Institute and Cleveland’s first Collaborative Marketing Database to assist arts and cultural institutions with audience development. She worked on public policy and grants, and conducted research on the economic impact of arts and culture. When the job in Sacramento’s Office of Arts and Culture came up, it seemed like a perfect fit.
“I was in the stage of my career that I really wanted to see what was next,” says the Flint, Mich., native. “Sacramento was enticing, particularly because of its Creative Edge plan,” an initiative launched in 2018 to create a comprehensive cultural vision for the city.
“I’m very interested in its approach around the creative economy. I’ve never worked in government—I’ve always been an advocate from the outside—but this job seemed like a really great opportunity to take the work I was doing and make a change.”
The fact that Van Voorhis had to change jobs and homes in a pandemic hardly fazed her, proving her determination to ensure Sacramento’s creative culture can survive and thrive. Her two sons, ages 12 and almost 17, are still in Cleveland, but they’ll join their mother in California when the school year is done. The time alone has given Van Voorhis the chance to explore her new city and learn its cultural landscape.
“I won’t lie, it’s a tough time for the creative community, since arts and cultural players rely on in-person experiences,” says Van Voorhis, who studied dance in college before discovering her love for arts administration and earning a master’s in business administration from Case Western Reserve University.
She continues, “I have lots of goals. Our team is heavily involved in grant making as part of the pandemic response.
The mayor and City Council have been outstanding in allocating funding. We’re also making sure that as we reopen, communication guidance is clear. Performing arts organizations need a timeline—they can’t just open—so we need more guidance from the state. Clarity is very important for the people we serve.
“A lot of my work has been getting to know our broader priorities—how the arts connect to each other and to the economy. My job is to help my division become what it’s intended to be and advance the goals of the Creative Edge plan. That means I’m involved in arts education, grant making, the film office, public art—figuring out who we are and how we move our goals forward.”
Workforce development, professional education and economic development are on Van Voorhis’ list of priorities, as is increasing the visibility of minority artists who may fly under the radar but contribute immensely to the city’s creative makeup.
Van Voorhis believes a creative city must be affordable to people who make art. This means the city needs to be “catalytic on the housing and planning front.” She’s prepared to help make Sacramento a vibrant, economically secure culture hub for decades to come.
If her work allows time to bask in the lovely Sacramento weather, even better.
For information, visit arts.cityofsacramento.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.