Take it from Me 

with Felicia Shaw 

Focused. ChangeMaker. Defender of the Arts.  

By DIANE KLINE

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Felicia Shaw has been a leader in arts administration for more than 25 years, but in two very different worlds.

After growing up in St. Louis, where she attended Beaumont High School, she settled in San Diego, working for the city’s Commission for Arts and Culture, as well as for the San Diego Foundation. Two years ago, she returned to her hometown to take the helm of the Regional Arts Commission, the organization that funds and promotes the arts throughout the St. Louis region.

In California, where the ocean is considered art, she says they still wonder if it’s worthwhile to invest in culture. So she was surprised to find out just how well-supported the arts are in St. Louis. With determination and focus, this mother of three (and grandmother of three) is creating a new vision for RAC and the community it serves. She shared her thoughts on change, focus and integrity.

I discovered my real spirit by returning to St. Louis.

My real spirit is the “St. Louis Way” – practical and sensible. It’s hard for St. Louisans to change because of our history. We hold on so tightly to the way “things have been done.” There’s something charming about our traditions – like supporting the Cardinals or going to The Muny – the ceremony and the consistency. Routine feels safe, but it also keeps us from advancing. It’s important to decide what to keep and what to discard. We have to shed our skin to renew. This city needs a huge loofah!

I smell the roses when I reach my destination.

I know people talk about enjoying the journey, but I get focused on a concrete goal and won’t be waylaid by side trips. I need the reward of finalization. I chop a project up into manageable pieces and reward myself over little victories. I like to see the progress. This is in the DNA I got from my mother.

I got schooled about St. Louis arts quickly.

Artmaking here is revered and nurtured. I quickly discovered the high quality of the arts, though the rest of the country still has a flyover mentality about us. The symphony blew me away. Our museum has a world-class collection. The literary community is first class, especially in poetry. And there’s no civic debate about whether to invest in the arts. Case closed.

Shaking things up at RAC means making hard choices.

Too many people don’t participate in the arts, in part, because we’ve been tied to old allegiances and protocols. RAC receives public money, so we owe it to the community to create access to the arts for everyone and to reward excellence. Hard choices mean that St. Louis’ very best – from major institutions to grassroots organizations – will thrive now and into the future.

My life has been about failing forward.”

The lessons, the lessons, the lessons! I’ve been able to build off of what I learned from my failures – things that went one way when I thought they would go another way. I’ve gotten up the next day and been able to carry on. My values, especially service to others, are intact. My integrity is still solid.

My mother’s approval is in the crevices of my psyche.

If I do something, I still question whether it would make my mother proud. She was a stay-at-home housewife, as loving as she was determined and steely. She taught me to set high standards; that if you have an extra second, you help others. She’d dress me in Jackie Kennedy-styled outfits, expertly sewn from Vogue patterns. Everyone aspired to this look, but I wanted the store-bought dresses that my friends wore. Mom was having none of that. She was all about high-quality style and still is today.

When I die, I look forward to napping.

I am never bored. When I go to sleep every night, I’m tired. My life is full with work, family, friends and volunteering. If I cycle off a board, I end up on another one. I love my life, and my dance card is full every day.