Executive Director, Columbia Art League
AGE: 29 with 12 years of experience
JOB DESCRIPTION: Executive director running all of the Columbia Art League’s art, education and community programs, plus Art in the Park.
YEARS LIVED IN COLUMBIA: 18 months
ORIGINAL HOMETOWN: Preston, Lancashire, England
EDUCATION: Degree in Swedish and linguistics from the University of East Anglia. Yes, I know: Why? That’s what all the Swedes say too.
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: It’s rare that I’m in a community for long enough to get involved. I’ve been skipping round the world for 20 years. Columbia is the first place I’ve ever felt at home, and hence here is the first place where I’ve been involved with the community, through the Columbia Art League, the Boone County Council on Aging and the Visioning process.
PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND: Public relations and marketing across three continents, predominantly in the hotel and tourism industry.
A COLUMBIA BUSINESSPERSON I ADMIRE: David White. His drive, determination, tirelessness, optimism and fundraising success are energizing and inspirational. Wendy Libby, too, for her work revitalizing Stephens College. Both are people with great vision, clarity of determination and a passion for excellence.
WHY I’M PASSIONATE ABOUT MY JOB: The Columbia Art League endlessly astounds me. The organization is soon to be 50 years old. How many small businesses make it to 50 years, let alone art galleries? The tenacity of the organization—with the community love it has inspired for five decades—is, for me, a symbol of how intact community is in small-town America. It is truly a pleasure to turn up for work every day, a joy to meet so many artists and heartwarming to receive such a warm reception everywhere I go. Everyone I meet is willing the Columbia Art League forward. In 2008 we will join David White at the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts as the resident art gallery. Raising the money for us to make the move there is a large challenge, especially when so many people have already given to the overall theater renovation, but I am ecstatic that the Columbia Art League will finally have a permanent home, a home with 70 feet of window space along 9th Street, a beautiful gallery to display the work of local artists and visiting national artists. This is a great time to be the executive director of the Columbia Art League, and although I run around in a state of absolute freneticism most days, I wouldn’t change it for any other job in Columbia.
IF I WEREN’T DOING THIS FOR A LIVING, I WOULD: Be reporting for the BBC. I have been a correspondent for BBC Radio 4 for the last two years, producing radio stories for a show about language (another of my passions). I’ve recorded stories on the pop-versus-soda debate, American auctioneers, prison slang, square dance calling, Elizabethan English on the North Carolina Outer Banks and speaking in tongues.
BIGGEST CAREER OBSTACLE I’VE OVERCOME: Self belief. I always think I’m doing a terrible job and not getting enough done. It’s hard sometimes to evaluate your own performance when you’re in the middle of it all. I have to remind myself that not only have I worked in London, Hong Kong, Jakarta, New York, Bangkok and Singapore, but that I’ve been headhunted for certain positions, which must mean that people approve of my ability. Yet I always have that sneaking suspicion that I’m going to get caught out one day.
A FAVORITE RECENT PROJECT: Driving across America and writing about the wonderful people and the fabulous small towns which make up the Midwest. It had long been my ambition to drive across America, so after my mother died in January 2005, I decided it was time to hire a convertible and set off from Los Angeles to see who y’all were here in the middle of the country. And I completely fell in love with the people, the landscapes, the sense of space, the communities and some of the amazing characters: the hoboes who meet in Britt, Iowa every August for their annual “convention;” the man in Wabasha, Minn., who has the world’s largest collection of Japanese wedding kimonos; the sculptor in Regent, N.D., who is 7/11ths of the way through creating an avenue of the world’s largest scrap metal sculptures; the Buddhist from San Francisco who moved to Roslyn, S.D., and opened the International Vinegar Museum; the farmer from Oklahoma who has been contract harvesting the Midwest since the 1940s. The stories of small-town America are all still online at www.cowgirl-bling.com.
WHAT PEOPLE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THIS PROFESSION: You do it for love, not for money.
WHAT I DO FOR FUN: I travel, I plant flowers, I cook using butter, and I love my husband.
FAVORITE PLACE IN COLUMBIA: Home or the fabulous martini bar at Village Wine and Cheese, or a booth at CJ’s for chicken wings.
ACCOMPLISHMENT I’M MOST PROUD OF: The succession of new lives I’ve had around the planet.
MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THAT I: Can “steer” an elephant, though only elephants which live in northern Thailand. I can speak several languages, but I only speak one elephant language. It’s one of my limitations.