Recipe for an executive director at a small-town arts center: Mix equal parts event planner, volunteer coordinator and visionary. Add a dash of diplomacy and a pinch of ambition. Stir gently.
At the St. Croix ArtBarn, a new executive director took the helm January 1. An Amery resident and longtime volunteer at the arts center, Chad Leonard has his own take on the job description.
“Really, it’s doing everything that needs to get done,” he said. “To work between the executive board, the board and volunteer groups. To make sure we plan our season and that we have enough people to do all the work we need to do.”
But his biggest role? Building the relationship between the ArtBarn and community.
It’s a mission that can take many forms: painting classes, a fundraising effort for a pottery studio, adding a student-held seat to the board, working with the local chamber of commerce to make Osceola a destination for community arts.
Or as Leonard put it: “How can the ArtBarn create opportunities for people to get involved in community arts?
“As of late we’ve been a venue for theater and we’ve done some classes,” he continued, “but I really want to see us do more of the educational piece.”
For a decade, Leonard spent off hours volunteering at the Barn, becoming increasingly involved as he joined the board in 2016.
“I love that this is a place where everyone is welcome and that we find something for everyone to do,” he said of his commitment to the organization. “However they want to be involved, we’re open to making that happen.”
But becoming the Barn’s executive director was not something he’d seen coming. Last summer, after being laid off from his job directing clinical research at a medical device company, Leonard took the opportunity to reflect. He shifted gears, started substitute teaching in Osceola and Amery, and pursued a teaching degree in business education.
“At 40 I’m having a career change and an opportunity to completely change what I’m doing and what impact I can have,” he said. “… This is what I want to do when I grow up is be a teacher and work in the ArtBarn, creating experiences.”
Still, Leonard plans to apply his previous experience to his current work.
“I come with an extensive business background and nonprofit management,” he said.
He’s used that experience in leading the Barn in several recently-instituted and upcoming projects. For example, a list of core values: education, inclusion, sustainability and gratitude.
“When we make a decision on what programing to do at the Barn we are using these core values to determine our future direction,” Leonard explained.
The arts center is also starting a scholarship for graduating Osceola High School seniors. Funding will come through donations for treats at ArtBarn events.
But Leonard’s vision doesn’t end with short-term projects.
“Long term,” he said, “I’d like to see the barn become a year-round facility.”
To do that, the outside of the barn would have to be insulated and resided, preserving the original walls as the interior. If Leonard has his druthers, they’ll add a commercial kitchen at the same time.
Doing so would enable the Barn to reach out to the community in new ways, “whether it be cooking classes or partnering with the county to provide meals during the day,” he said.
Community members can help, Leonard noted.
“The ArtBarn doesn’t survive without grants and financial assistance from individuals,” he said. “But if you’re not ready to get out your pocketbook, attend one of our events. That helps fund the activities we’re doing here.“
With Leonard, it seems, the Barn has found its community liaison, organizer and visionary. Emphasis, perhaps, on the last.