The search committee for LexArts' new president and CEO has narrowed its choices to two finalists who were in town Friday and Saturday for interviews and meetings with organization staff, board and members of the community.
The finalists are Christine E. Crawfis, director of the Unison Arts Center in New Paltz, N.Y., and Ellen A. "Nan" Plummer, development director at the Arkansas Children's Hospital Foundation in Springdale, Ark., and former executive director of the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock.
On both of their schedules were public forums attended by arts administrators, artists and interested members of the community. Many of the participants and some of the questions were the same both days, though observers said they saw two very distinct candidates for the post.
Crawfis, whose forum was Friday afternoon, is exploring the Lexington post after extended stays in New Paltz and Florida, serving in a variety of posts, including 13 years at the American Craft Council.
"My life has always been about the arts, whether as a participant, an administrator or an observer," Crawfis said, fielding an initial question from LexArts board chair John Long about her journey in the arts. She focused for a moment on her role as producer of special events for the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Fla., saying it exemplified, "that theme that runs throughout my career of creating community and bringing people into an arts space."
Plummer appeared Saturday morning, armed with a computer presentation about national and local trends in united arts funds like LexArts. LexArts manages the city-owned ArtsPlace building on North Mill Street and works with arts groups in a variety of ways. But its signature endeavor is the annual Fund for the Arts campaign that raises just over $1 million, much of which is allocated to general-operating support grants to major arts groups and grants to groups and individual artists.
Plummer's analysis was that LexArts' campaign was healthy. Referring to one of her slides of bar graphs, she said, "Your bars look better overall than national bars. It tells me that generally speaking, the annual fund campaign is working just fine. ... This doesn't mean it can't do better. It doesn't even necessarily mean it's the most important thing to focus on. But it's certainly nothing to throw out the window. It's generating funding at a comparatively good rate."
One thing both candidates had in common was succeeding predecessors in previous posts who had led organizations for more than 30 years, which will not be the case in Lexington. Retiring president and CEO Jim Clark served 11 years. But it did yield one of the more amusing lines of the candidates' talks when Plummer was asked about becoming the new leader in an established organization.
"I learned that it was important to at least make the sacred cows moo, and if you have to slaughter them, do it ritually and not accidentally," Plummer said, to laughter and applause.
Crawfis acknowledged there are challenges coming into a community with established leaders.
"I'm sure that's something that is on everyone's mind is why the organization would do a national search, when I'm sure there's talent and resources right here," Crawfis said. "That's a valid question. My experience has been that new energy sometimes brings new ideas. Not necessarily new direction, and not necessarily directions that don't come systemically out of the community, but fresh eyes."
Among the observers and questioners at both forums was Clark's predecessor, Dee Fizdale, who shared the broad assessment that both candidates had distinct but very good presentations.
"Christine is thoroughly grounded in community arts and how to bring people in," Fizdale said. "Nan brought a thorough knowledge of fundraising and how to do it."
Lexington Children's Theatre artistic director Vivian Snipes said one of her big questions is what LexArts wants to be and how that would define the role of its leader. A number of questions at the forums explored whether LexArts should function more in a role of fundraising or in arts advocacy and leadership, or both.
"I feel like I could work with either of these women without any difficulty," Snipes said.
Following these interviews, Long said a new LexArts leader would probably be named in two weeks. Assessing the choices, Fizdale concluded, "A bad decision will not be made."