The Arizona Commission on the Arts announced today that after 15 years with the agency, Deputy Director Alexandra Nelson will leave to work as a strategist with Welcome Strategies, a Phoenix-based collaborative consulting practice, and as an independent consultant specializing in operations, programs, and equitable funding practices in the education, nonprofit, government, and philanthropic sectors. Her last day with the Arts Commission will be December 15, 2023.
We hope you’ll join us in bidding Alex bon voyage with a brief message of gratitude, congratulations, and encouragement! Just fill out the form below and hit submit to send your well-wishes.
Bon Voyage, Alex!
Reflecting on her time with the Arts Commission, Nelson said, “it’s been such an honor and privilege to serve the people of Arizona and our statewide arts communities during these past 15 years. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work in close partnership with leaders throughout the state, to witness the vibrancy of our arts and cultural ecosystem, and support the vital contributions of our sector to Arizona’s communities and to civic life. I feel especially indebted to my colleagues at the Arts Commission, past and present, for their wisdom, generosity, and inspiration.”
Nelson has served as Deputy Director since 2017. During her time as Deputy Director, she oversaw the agency’s grants, programs, and services, co-created its values-based framework, and has facilitated the agency’s ongoing efforts to prioritize equity and geographic parity across policy and practice.
Jaime Dempsey, who led the Arts Commission from 2017 to 2021, offered the following appraisal of her former colleague:
“Alex is brilliant—as a leader, partner, and human. What an honor to work alongside her and have a front-row seat to her ferocious, persistent pursuit of practices that are more creative, more just, and that celebrate with abundance the importance of artists and makers. But Alex doesn’t grandstand, so perhaps some do not know that for over 15 years she has been the central nervous system of the Arts Commission as well as a significant contributor to local and national arts discourse.”
In recent years, Nelson led the agency through a successful Sunset Audit and reauthorization, and her steady leadership and vast institutional knowledge have ensured stability during a period of transitions in the agency’s executive office and its board of commissioners.
“Alex has been foundational to the ongoing growth and smooth operations of this agency,” said Jacky Alling, the Arts Commission’s current Interim Executive Director. “She also has that rare combination of knowing how to manage all of the day to day nuts and bolts while not giving short shrift to a vision for the future and is always keeping an eye out for the next innovation around the bend. We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her contributions to this agency and the creative sector in this state.”
Nelson joined the Arts Commission staff in 2009 as Arts Learning Coordinator and Arizona Poetry Out Loud Manager. In 2011 she was promoted to Director of Arts Learning, overseeing the agency’s comprehensive slate of arts education programs, services, investments, and local and national partnerships.
As Director of Arts Learning, and then Senior Director of Grants and Programs, Nelson played a central role in the design and implementation of some of the Arts Commission’s most innovative and impactful initiatives, including the Strengthening Schools Through Arts Partnerships program, which funded partnerships between arts organizations and Title I schools, and Arizona Art Tank, which invited applicants to pitch entrepreneurial arts-based ventures to live audiences and expert panels for up to $10,000 in seed funding. Nelson also designed and launched AZ Creative Aging, a three-year initiative to advance the creative aging field in Arizona, through research, infrastructure development, and creative professional training for multiple older adult stakeholder groups. In support of this initiative Nelson secured a three-year, $225,000 grant from Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.
“Alex crafted a statewide arts education program which provided support to all sectors of the arts learning communities,” recalled Robert Booker, Executive Director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts from 2006 – 2017. “Not only did this work guide the development of new agency programs, it enabled us to reimagine traditional activities and serve the breath of the learning community.”
Beyond her work at the Arts Commission, Nelson has served as a member of national advisory groups for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Grantmakers in the Arts. She also works as a teaching artist and production manager for dance and theatre.
As she embarks on this next stage of her career, Nelson will build on the foundation of her 15 years at the agency. “I look forward to continuing to work in support of arts and culture, and its incredible power to transform, question, engage, and lead us toward a more just and imaginative future.”