New Arts Council Director Wants To Listen

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Rhonda Morgan is the new Arts Council executive director.

Rhonda Morgan is the new Arts Council executive director.

The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge has a new executive director, although she is a familiar face. Rhonda Morgan (nee Hale) was elevated to the position vacated by Laura Rawlings, who departed after three years for a development job with Roanoke College. The Arts Council board of directors offered Morgan the executive directorship last week.  She had been the artist services and arts education director for the past several years.

The Arts Council, supported by member dues, grants, corporate sponsorships and local government funding, is an advocacy group for local artists and arts organizations.

Morgan studied art at Mary Baldwin College and paints when she has the time. Previously Morgan owned an arts supply gallery and art instruction business in Salem. She closed that when a fire forced her from the rental space.

The Arts Council of the Blue Ridge has about 250 artist members “of different disciplines,” said Morgan, with another 100 or so arts and cultural organizations also in the fold. The Arts Council’s tagline, noted Morgan, is “supporting artists and creative communities.”

Instead of rolling out any grand plan of her own right now Morgan wants to listen to members, to see what they want from the non-profit organization. “What I want to do is become relevant in this new climate,” said Morgan. “I really want to get out there and start talking to our members, and see what relevant means to them at this point.”

The economic conditions and the arrival of the Taubman Museum of Art as a major player on the local arts scene two years ago are realities that Morgan and the Arts Council must deal with. “There’s a very big desire for collaborations and partnerships . . . that’s how we need to do business these days.”  Morgan talked about a “new synergy” in the local arts community. “Change is good…we just have new things going on.”

Morgan said she would “look forward” to working with Taubman executive director David Micklenberg, who expressed a desire recently to become more closely connected with local artists and arts organizations, as the museum becomes more of the arts center he hopes for. “I think it’s a natural collaboration,” said Morgan, “ I hope he and I will have conversations that will make sense for everybody.”

Morgan said keeping P.A.C.E. with the arts community – promotion, advocacy, convening [different groups, seeking feedback], and education – is what the Arts Council is all about. Membership has grown about 60% over the past several years, according to Morgan. Events like 40+40, which has tied together local arts happenings for the past three years every fall, have helped raise the council’s visibility.

Morgan was also the focal point for the recent Artview, which brought together international and regional artists for an exhibition of installation pieces and outreach into the community. Morgan was able to connect with organizations like the Sister Cities program (visiting artists represented Roanoke’s sister cities) during Artview, allowing them more visibility as well.

“So much is growing out of that,” said Morgan, already talking to other arts organizations about similar collaborations. She would like to start an artist exchange program of some sort as well. “It really is wide open right now – I really don’t want to define it.” Exchanged juried art shows could be part of that equation.

Morgan is grateful for the support of the Arts Council board as she takes over the reins from Laura Rawlings. “It’s an exciting time…on a personal level my goal is to be of value to the arts community. That’s why I’m here, to hopefully [realize] that goal. That’s why I took this position. It’s important that we do the right things for the arts community.”