002: Modelling the Possibilities with Chiblie Coleman?

Within just four years, today’s guest Chiblie Coleman moved from being Board Treasurer to Board President at Threewalls. It’s been an amazing journey of learning and growth for Chiblie, so I’m excited to catch up with her to discuss what it means for the BIPOC and ALAANA artistic community to thrive.


Chicago born and raised, Chiblie is an artist herself with a career in finance. We met at a networking event, and her service has been invaluable. Join us as we discuss her future strategies for Threewalls, building relationships, the opportunities with virtual communities – and our love for food.



Links and resources mentioned:

001: How Is Your Heart Beating?

The Arts and Business Council


Breaking Bread


Read Full Transcript

Jeffreen Hayes 0:30
So today on Inside the Walls, we have the pleasure of speaking with our new board president Chiblie Coleman. And as I shared in earlier episodes, one of the most important things to the organization's reimagination has been the board of directors and shifting it from a traditional board structure, which, as I've shared before, I entered the organization, it was predominantly White, was very corporate-like, and for an organization that was being reimagined to center ALAANA artists, having an all White board was not going to serve our purpose. And, it certainly wasn't going to fully support the artists that we wanted to support. It also was not reflective of Chicago--Chicago being a community that is still majority People of Color, and at different socio- economic statuses. So, in comes, the work to shift the board, and one person who has been instrumental in that is Chiblie. And so excited to have you on today, Chiblie. Welcome!

Chiblie Coleman 1:48
Thank you, Jeffreen! So excited to be here and grateful to be serving as a member of the board of Threewalls.

Jeffreen Hayes 1:57
Yeah, and so Chiblie, before we get into the details, you know, one of the things that's really important to the organization is humanity, right, and really centering that, which means we go beyond the titles and the productivity of folk. And so as a way to introduce yourself to our community, please share a little bit about yourself.

Chiblie Coleman 2:25
Well, really, again, really very glad to be here. As Jeffreen said, my name Chiblie Coleman, and I have been serving as a board member of Threewalls, for a few years now. I'm starting my fourth year.

Background about myself: I'm Chicago, born and raised. And without all of the formalities, I'm really a lover of life, of being a faith, and someone who, who deeply cares about her community, and those that create. And as also a musician and an artist herself, I am completely inspired by everything that Threewalls does to support artists, specifically artists of color.

And, I have been probably one of the bigger champions in more recent years of Threewalls, and the work that we're doing within our communities and within Chicago. And just, again, really glad to be what I would like to consider a servant leader for the organization.

In addition to arts background, I do have a finance background. So I serve as a finance manager in the healthcare industry. I've been doing that for a little over 10 years. And I really just love to combine my passion for health and well being in life to creativity and Threewalls is the pinnacle or a great meeting point for me to be able to share some of the beliefs that I have, and also the creative outlet that I think is so important for all of our communities, and specifically for the community in Chicago that Threewalls serves.

Jeffreen Hayes 4:16
Thanks, Chiblie. So one of the things that I so appreciate about you, not only as a board member, but as an individual is your passion and your passion for life and the arts and experiencing different cultures because you also love to travel. You are very open to new experiences, which is really important at Threewalls. And, you know, is not necessarily tied to a generational idea.

But I do think it's important to note that within the structure of our organization and the board, that we have board members, that span in age range. And so you're one of our youngest board members, and serving as board president. And typically, in an arts organization, you wouldn't even be on the board of directors; you'd be on a junior board. And you'd work your way up as you age. And if you are on the board of directors, you certainly wouldn't be in an officer position.

And so I think that's important to state in terms of when folks are thinking about the board makeup, that while we want younger folk, and the assumption is you want younger folk who just can write a large check. What we've talked about as a board is that who we want as board members goes far beyond the financial capacity, right? Like there's the life experience; there is different perspectives that are much more important, and also the time that folks give to the organization. So I wanted to say that because I think that is important.

And so, with you being on the board for now, four years, and being board president, can you talk about how you came to learn about Threewalls?

Chiblie Coleman 6:21
Sure. So I was introduced to Threewalls, through an organization called the Arts and Business Council of Chicago, and, more specifically, the Arts and Business Council had a fundraiser at the company that I worked for. And I was invited by one of my peers, consultant that I work with, to, to join a luncheon. And she knew that I loved the arts, and I've done work in the arts, and she said, "Hey, here's, we're going to have a luncheon, you should definitely join us."

And the Arts and Business Council of Chicago, during that luncheon pitched a call for individuals who are in the business community to serve our arts communities in Chicago. And I really, really felt very strongly about that, and that I had a calling to do something similar to that.

And so I joined what is considered their board development program, which consisted of a few sessions in which we learned about the background of a board because for me, I really as much as passionate as I am, as Jeffreen mentioned, I really wanted to make sure if I was going to connect myself with an organization, I wanted to do that to the best of my ability and get some get an understanding and a basic basic foundation as to how a board is structured; how decisions are made; how board members support the organizations that they're a part of how they contribute, whether that is fiscally or what their time or their talents.

And so the board development program through the Arts and Business Council was extremely instrumental, in giving me a really base level and excellent foundation in the structure of a board. And I think that was something that was really important to me, because as passionate as I am about contributing to the community, I think it's also key that we set ourselves up for success. And that program definitely allowed me to understand the structure and be able to feel confident in communicating with board members in the in a very similar way that I would do in my career.

So bridging the gap of passion and knowledge and understanding about an organization or a board and how how to support whether that, again, is fiscally or through your time. So through again, through the Arts and Business Council, their matching program is a part of their development programs.

So the matching program, it was basically like speed dating, but for organizations. And so through that networking, I was introduced to many different types of organizations, but definitely was interested in Threewalls. And their mission, because it was, hey, we're going to we're going to support our artists.

We're going to support professionals who not are amateurs at this, but who want to want to create in their communities and need some assistance or need some support from an organization that is really backing them and willing to sponsor them. And that really spoke to me and through that networking session definitely started to develop a relationship with Threewalls.

And I was, I guess you could say courted by Jeffreen as a beautiful black woman, I was definitely inspired by her passion and by her level of education and professionalism. In addition to two board members, Devin and Colin, who also were extremely instrumental in kind of sharing with me who the family of Threewalls was, because that's really what what I felt and how I felt comfortable, because it wasn't so structured and rigid that they weren't, they were not able or willing to allow someone like myself, a young woman of color in, in the professional world to join their board or, or just their team as someone who is willing to support.

So that is how the long story short, or the long story long about how I was introduced to Threewalls and the Arts and Business Council's board development program. And from that [I] guess courting session or networking session, I was invited to a few different events that Threewalls hosted and developed the relationships and was really able to see how Threewalls was impacting the community through the programs that we create, and that we develop on a regular basis.

Jeffreen Hayes 11:20
Yeah, so the Arts and Business Council's program "On Board" has been an important mechanism for us to extend outside of the traditional friends and family of board members. And to recruit board members who, as Chiblie shared, learn the ins and outs of being a board member. What does it mean? It's not only the fiduciary responsibility, it's not only the governance, but it's also how do you support your Ed? How do you support the team--that is what the board is there to do. And so bringing Chiblie on through that process, made the transition and the evolution of the organization that much more easy because there wasn't this fight about what needed to happen because Chiblie came in understanding her role.

And I do remember that speed dating event. And yes, Colin Lord and Devin Mathews, two of the board members who were there with me. And I think they did a really great job, [laughter], talking about why Threewalls was so important and the shift that was happening.

And, you know, I appreciate hearing how you articulate the work of Threewalls, Chiblie, and centering the artists, and what it means to support, you said professional artists, and yes, they're professional, but also practicing artists because it's so difficult for ALAANA artists or artists of color, to get support for their practice that's outside of a residency program. And outside of just making an exhibition, that in between space of research and development, and incubating. There's not always a lot of support for that. And so that is part of our work. And so I'm just affirming what you're saying. Because sometimes a lot of people like we've had potential board members come to the organization and learn. And they don't understand that part. Right?

Because the art world is so caught up on, "well, artists just make objects, I want the object, right, I want to support the artists so I can get this object" and we are saying we're actually supporting the artists in their development as an artist. And there may be an object, a lot of times there isn't. It really is about their research, their development, and what you get to experience with the artists and the programs.

So you've been on the board for now, four years. You're board president. How did you become board president? Like you've been on the board for four years?

Chiblie Coleman 14:29
Wow. Um, still asking myself the same question. So did I become board president?

I, again, going back to the foundationn and the the training with Arts and Business Council. I definitely took a leap of faith in joining the Threewalls board. I felt prepared by again, the on-boarding program, but more personally, I felt like I wanted to contribute to my community a bit differently than I had in the past.

And it was a leap of faith for me because I wasn't necessarily in what would be considered the arts world, at the time, wasn't extremely familiar with programming, or even exhibitions or art experiences, in in the way that Threewalls fosters the artist and their development, like Jeffreen mentioned.

But I definitely wanted to expand my scope. And I was willing to help where I could and provide what I am the expert at, ultimately, which was financial responsibility or fiduciary responsibility. And so I joined the Threewalls board with the understanding that, hey, we need someone who's strong and who's strong, and finance with the numbers who can help to build our organization to a place where we can feel confident in our finances.

And I felt that that was something that I would be able to contribute, even if I was younger or diverse, that only really added to the diversity of thought for me, and what I was able to contribute to the organization as a whole. But more specifically, I knew that my background in finance was something that was valuable, and even invaluable to the organization in helping us to grow from where we were four years ago to where we are now.

So I joined the Threewalls board, and within a few months took on the responsibility of being board treasurer, again, I kind of had some understanding that, hey, this is coming down the pipeline. So it wasn't very much a surprise for me, it wasn't baptism by fire, as they would say. It was more of, hey, you've joined our family. Let's use your skills to drive the organization and its mission forward.

So join the board, became treasurer, did that for a few years as a member of the executive committee, developed some close relationships with my other peers on the executive committee. And really was able to learn a lot from them in terms of how the organization works, but even more personally grow my my network and my circle to be able to, again, take that leap of faith and do something a little bit differently that I had done in the past, meet different people, be in rooms and surrounded by people, some who look like me and some who don't, from different walks of life with different backgrounds, with different experiences, and careers.

So for me, going from the board member seat to then the treasurer seat a few months back, Jeffreen said, Hey, you know, that might be a really good idea, we need you to step up to the plate. And I definitely took some time to think about it. But I was encouraged by all of my fellow board members. And I feel a strong level of support from each one of them very differently; even the new board members that I've helped to kind of field and recruit in the last few few years, all the way to previous board members, I definitely feel their support at times, and even other current executive committee members.

And I've been able to learn a lot and also feel like it's a it's a two way street. So I've been able to contribute what I can to the organization. And I've also taken so much away from it. Whether it's a level of understanding about the arts worlds, or an added level of competence in my in my personal life, an expanded network, all of that has been part of my journey to becoming board president. And here I am.

Jeffreen Hayes 19:16
Yeah, it's really exciting to have you as board president. What Chiblie is not sharing that I don't think she would mind me saying is that she has been one of the biggest advocates for me and the team with the board in terms of moving the organization closer and closer to accountability in terms of how we care for our team, how to care for the ED.

And the level of care that we extend to artists, we should be extending to ourselves and so that is really important to call out and to name because that is not always the case with board members. And, and because we do have a board that extends our culture of care within the organization, it makes our jobs as Ed and the team that much more easier to care for the artists we work with, the creators we work with in our communities.

But Chiblie has been a huge champion pushing for that. And this is one of the reasons why I asked her to consider becoming the board president, especially as we are in this moment of just everything being turned upside down with the pandemic and the uprisings for Black Lives. As an organization, we are holding these two, while trying to care for our community and to to be a light for artists, for creatives, for cultural workers, for boards, that you can actually respond to this moment and respond to the humanity of folks who are being disproportionately impacted by both.

And Chiblie, over the next two to three years, will be helping to move us as an organization in that direction, continue that work in in her role.

So Chiblie, you know, you come to Threewalls, it is very different from, you know, other arts organizations. Is there a particular program or experience that really kind of solidifies your what you think, how you describe the organization? I'm always really curious because as we've gotten feedback from different folks, as I mentioned previously, potential board members don't really understand what we're doing. And it's because it's packaged very differently. We'll have funders, donors, and even some artists. But is there a particular moment during programming that's really spoken to you?

Chiblie Coleman 22:31
there are so many programming moments that have spoken to me, two, that really come to mind or two programs that specifically come to mind are In-Session and Breaking Bread. So two completely different programs.

In-session, pre pandemic, we were having a few months out of the year, once a month, and we would have an artist, most cases of performing artists come in and present their work, allow the audience present at the session, at the In-Session, to experience their work, and allow time for either discussion or communication, questions and answers. But just being able to share in a safe space, and see how the artists were able to be present and fully creative, in a community

on the west side of Chicago, to me was just so impactful, regardless of what the specific topic might have been for the day, or for the evening, whether it was martial arts or liturgical dance, poetry, song, whatever the topic might have been, or whatever the session was specifically related to art history, culture, cultural arts, every session, the recurring theme for me, and the recurring understanding was that we're providing so much not just for the artists, but for the community that comes to feel heard, or feel creative or feel welcome and feel safe.

And for for me that was beautiful to see not just the artists receiving or giving but also our community giving and showing up to support the artists and and receive

whatever beautiful work of art that was on display, or that was communicated or shared for that for that very sacred time as I would like to call it. So In-Session that's one.

The other Breaking Bread. Breaking Bread for me is just fabulous because it is what it is--food [laughter] and the culinary arts.

Jeffreen Hayes 25:05
We love food at Threewalls.

Chiblie Coleman 25:07
We love food at Threewalls. And being able to share the culinary arts, a specific curated menu for the evening. A beautiful setting and ambience with mixed, fantastic company. And in most cases, a topic of discussion.

One topic that really sat with me was, what were you doing as your 12 year old self. That was the topic for one of our breaking bread sessions. And it was beautiful to just reflect, reflect back to a time where maybe in your lifetime, you might not ever reflect again. But to share, to share a moment in in reflection with those around the table or around our specific table just gave me a little bit of a different insight as to who we are, like who we were, and how that helped shape who we are now today.

So Breaking Bread was definitely one of my favorites. I have so many more that I could share. But I would say those those are two, two of my favorites that we have presented as an organization and that I hope will continue to cultivate over the years and share with various artists and with our community.

Jeffreen Hayes 26:31
Yeah, what's really wonderful about those two programs, specifically that are on hiatus because of a pandemic, right, is the foundation of conversation. And bringing together different groups of people to have this experience. And conversation is really important to our organization...that I think a lot of organizations might take for granted. Like one of the things that I really appreciate about my relationship with the board is that we can have very frank conversations.

Chiblie Coleman 27:12
We do.

Jeffreen Hayes 27:13
And we don't shy away from it. And everyone has different opinions, different perspectives. But we are all, we all come together around the fact that we are in service to artists and our community. And folks are open and they listen. And they learn. And that's the same with these two programs is In-Session and Breaking Bread. It is really about building relationships across the city, across time, across experiences. So I love that those are two of the programs that you mentioned. And yes, I know there are many [laughter]. But thank you for sharing that.

And so as you are beginning your tenure as board president and having really come to the organization, right as we were beginning to implement these new programs, and root who we are, as you look forward, what's your hope for the organization?

Chiblie Coleman 28:33
What a time just like right now to be where we are, and to have the responsibility that we have as an organization to be present for our community as difficult as it might be at times. I hope that we continue to grow and develop our sustainability as an organization; creating and tweaking or honing programs that we have and that we offer to be available not just to the communities that we've served in the past, but new communities and new areas of the city. And currently, virtual communities, which will impact even more people than we probably could have imagined or that are that our footprint could could touch in selecting different neighborhoods to practice or to create programs.

So sustainability in and growing our programs is definitely are definitely two areas that I would hope to grow during my tenure. And of course more of the same financial stability. We have been so very blessed as an organization to have wonderful donors and sponsors. We've been granted more than we can imagine, I think, to some extent. And I hope that these organizations continue to support us and find the value in our mission. And understand that we are strategizing to build and grow our organization, not just for the short term, because that is important, but also for the long term. I mean, how how is this gonna look, in three months is just as important as how it's going to look in three years or in 10 years, and having conversations open and candid conversations about what that looks like in the communities that we serve. This has definitely been on the docket, and in many meetings that we've had Jeffreen recently. So those two sustainability of program and sustainability financially, because we know that money makes us tick, right. And as much as we'd love to serve our communities, and it it does cost to make it happen. So continuing to build our our platform for being financially stable, continuing to foster relationships with local and national donors, and continuing to grow our programming here and in various areas. So those are some of my hopes for the organization.

Jeffreen Hayes 31:30
Yeah. And so what you're, what you're saying, is what internally, meaning the team, when I say internally, is the conversation we're having. And what does it really mean for a Black-led organization that is supporting ALAANA/BIPOC artists to thrive?

Chiblie Coleman 31:54
Right, right. Yep. Not just like, barely make it. But right. So important.

Jeffreen Hayes 32:01
What does it mean to thrive? And all of the things that you mentioned are important to that. For way too long arts organizations, and especially organizations that were founded by artists, are expected to simply get by, right. And, but yet, you know, have very impactful programs, while not necessarily some of them not being able to pay their artists, or not be able to pay yourself because you are paying artists. And so we are in this moment of, I oftentimes bristle at the term model, because I think it's been used so much in philanthropy to a detriment. But I had a conversation with a couple of artists who are trying to imagine a space for Black artists in their community. Because there isn't one there, there just isn't one. And what I told them is that while there may be folks who are okay with the status quo, you actually have to model the possibilities. And so that is what Threewalls is doing today--we're modeling the possibilities. So what is that next level or next step in modeling the possibility? It is the very thing you're talking about thriving, and those those elements needed to thrive.

Chiblie Coleman 33:38
I want to add something that you touched on earlier, and that is the importance of treating each other well, when I say each other, I mean, the staff, and Jeffreen as the director, that is not something I hope to do that is something that we've already put in place to do. But to expand on that. So that not just those that we're serving in the arts worlds can can thrive or can reap the benefits of a sustainable in a fiscally responsible organization, but our staff and Jeffreen as the director, making sure that they can live and thrive well in their own personal lives and I see far too, too often the starving artists or the artist who is working, working, working pushing and might or might not get a check or might or might not be compensated, and not even just to be compensated, but to somewhat be compensated fairly, is an understatement.

So to do things like have a healthy salary, have benefits, work towards having having insurance, having paths to planning for personal plans and in the future for our staff members. Again, that's something that we're doing actively and that we will continue to do because it's so, so much more important for me to take care of those close in the organization, in addition to those outside of the direct Threewalls community, because if we, if we take care of our own, then the work that we do will be honest work. And it will be speaking a language of love and light to our communities that, hey, we're thriving here. And we can share that to others. We can't share thriving to others, if our own close to home are hurting. So I know there's always more work to be done. But that's something that I don't hope to do. I know that we're doing that. And we're actively doing that we will continue to work towards evolving continuously, and making sure that we're taking care of those that are making all of this happen. So thank you to you, Jeffreen.

Jeffreen Hayes 36:06
I appreciate that, Chiblie. I appreciate that. And I think we're just going to end with that. I don't have anything else to say after that. But they are joining me in conversation. And thank you for your service. Yeah, thank you.

Chiblie Coleman 36:22
Thank you for having me.

Jeffreen Hayes 36:31
The sound designs to be here at the beginning and at the end of the podcast are by Jared Brown. The podcast is also supported by the Illinois Arts Council agency, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Surdna Foundation.



Threewalls is always finding new ways to share our artist’s unique voices through exhibits, talks, and gatherings. We would like you to be the first to know about these opportunities.