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Southwest Contemporary

Getting creative when crafting employee culture

Southwest Contemporary learns how to create policies and templates that reflect its artistic spirit

The challenge

Southwest Contemporary is the leading source of journalism for the contemporary art community in six Southwest-American states. Founder Lauren Tresp has grown her team from one employee to three over the past two years, and needed help managing her geographically-dispersed team of employees and freelancers, as well as exploring better ways to track their performance toward goals.

Southwest Contemporary is primarily funded through grants, but Lauren was ready to start making money through larger events and membership revenue. While she knew she needed more operational processes in place to serve her growing team, she was also wary of “corporatizing” Southwest Contemporary and losing the authentic team-based decision-making that she values.

“The Employee Handbook Is Where A Lot Of That Policy Work Came To Life. It Outlines Both Hr Policies And Journalistic Policies, And Then Includes Some Unique Things To Us As An Arts Publication Like How We Deal With The Arts, Like Difficult Subject Matter Or Sensitive Imagery. And, You Know, Hopefully Creating A Safe Space For All Of Our Contributors And Employees To Talk About Those Things.”

Lauren Tresp
Founder, Southwest Contemporary

The results

Lauren was paired with coach Jennifer Mizgata, who helped her think through how to create policies that brought more structure to the team while offering enough flexibility to preserve the unique spirit of the Southwest Contemporary culture. She started creating job scorecards for each of the roles on her team so her staff has more clarity around expectations and is initializing a performance review process.

Lauren also created a staffing plan in which she envisioned the next two roles she plans to add to her team and how they will integrate into the current organizational structure.

She said completing the team’s “How We Work” document was her favorite task. New hires and freelancers now have an easy way to get up to speed with how the Southwest Contemporary team operates, even including basics like how the team uses Zoom and calendar invites.

Lauren feels positive about her team’s ability to launch more sophisticated revenue initiatives after her time in the Startups Lab. And she’s proud to have convened Southwest Contemporary’s first advisory board to help lead that challenge.


Built a regional advisory board

Created a robust assortment of management documentation, including job scorecards, an employee handbook, a “How We Work” document and future staffing plan

Initiating a performance review process

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