Organizational Retreat in Chicago

June 28, 2023

From May 31 to June 2, Guild staff and board visited Chicago for a three-day organizational retreat (we also held a Community Space gathering with Chicago community arts education practitioners—read about that here).

Seven people standing in a half-circle, most of which are on the stage of a school auditorium.         A library with bookshelves lining the walls, and the floor covered in large string instruments in cases.

On our first day, we were thrilled to be hosted by Merit School of Music—a longtime Guild member organization, where Guild trustee and former board chair Duffie Adelson was President for many years (and is now a Life Trustee). We were fortunate to get a tour of the building from Duffie. 

One highlight of the tour was the library which, in addition to books, includes musical instruments and even formal concert attire available for students to borrow.

Duffie Adelson on stage at the Oprah Winfrey show, with Oprah facing her with her hand on her shoulder.        A plaque that reads "Duffie A. Adelson College Scholarship" with an image of music notes, and the names of scholarship recipients listed at the bottom.

It was beautiful to see evidence of Duffie’s legacy as we walked around the building, including a photo of Duffie on the Oprah Winfrey show talking about Merit’s work, and a plaque listing recipients of a scholarship in Duffie’s name.

During that first day we made significant strides in our strategic planning process with consultants Heather Heslup and Allegra Brown. They got the creative juices flowing by starting us off with a collective artmaking activity.


A large piece of brown paper taped on the wall, with vibrant abstract shapes in colorful paint.

Our masterpiece!

During this in-person session, we focused on Strategic Directions, which included setting SMART goals, creating measurable outcomes to support those goals, and deciding which goals will be prioritized in the timeline of the next few years. This set us up for the final step of the process, which is action planning.




Strategic planning consultants Heather and Allegra seated at the front of the room, while Guild staff and board members sit and stand around tables in a "U" formation.

The Guild has undergone deep transformation over the past couple of decades, and the Portal has provided us with an even deeper opportunity to reimagine this 85+ year old organization and our position in the community arts education field. We have now reached a stage in this process where the shape of the Guild’s future is more concrete, and there’s a lot of energy and excitement around what has emerged! Thank you to all who have provided input during this process, and we can’t wait to share the new strategic plan with you this fall.

A circular tapestry with a mandala print on it. Blue and bright yellow post-it notes with words on them have been arranged around the edge of the circle.

On our second day, we met at the National Museum of Mexican Art. We had a restorative circle facilitated by Jainelle Robinson, where we talked about some of the challenges and conflicts that have come up as part of this transformative organizational process. We began with an activity where we each wrote down the values that are most important to us in this work, and then added them to a circle in the middle of the room so that we could collectively ground in our shared values.

The retreat concluded with staff presentations, board committee reports, and board discussions about how they can support all of the work that’s happening now and moving forward.

Thank you to Duffie Adelson for being our local trustee and point person, and Merit School of Music and the National Museum of Mexican Art for hosting us!

Published: June 28, 2023