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New arts director aims to listen: Let her know what you want

Linda Shoemaker drumming with the Mystic Chorale.Linda Shoemaker drumming with the Mystic Chorale.

The new executive director of the Arlington Center for the Arts (ACA) brings her familiar, lively face -- and a willingness to listen -- to the position, vacant since September.

As the center concludes its first quarter century, Linda Shoemaker was named to the top job.

"This year I hope to meet a lot of people and do a lot of listening and learning about what people want from their community arts center," she wrote after YourArlington asked what she sees as her chief challenge.

"What kinds of programs, performances, classes, camps, workshops or experiences can we offer that will delight and engage our community in new ways?"

Shoemaker, who served as center's communications director for a decade, was among five finalists and more than 70 applicants.

John Budzyna, the former executive director, left Sept. 9 for personal reasons, and Shoemaker was named interim director that month.

I'd really like to hear from folks.

-- Linda Shoemaker

"I'd really like to hear from folks," she added, and hope they'll get in touch with their ideas about how ACA might develop more creative and engaging arts and culture opportunities for kids, teens, adults and seniors, for artists and art appreciators -- for all of us!' The public can reach her at linda at acarts.org.

Board cochairs Betty Stone, left, and Gwen Chasan flank Shoemaker.Board cochairs Betty Stone, left, and Gwen Chasan flank Shoemaker.

The center's board plans a "Welcome Linda Reception" for Thursday, Jan. 30, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the center. There will be wine and food, music and some discussion about what's ahead for the ACA.

"I'm especially excited about some music we're planning," she wrote.

Matt Jenson will be on keyboards, playing solo jazz, r&b and Latin music. Jenson, a professor at Berklee College of music, has a studio at the ACS.

At Berklee he teaches a course about Bob Marley, who brought reggae to interbational attention, and has traveled with students to Jamaica.

Shoemaker's group, Kukublu, will perform a mix of traditional West African rhythm and song, combined with powerful American blues singing by our lead singer Louise Grasmere.

'Strategic-planning process'

Gwen Chasan, cochair of the center's board, called top challenges at 41 Foster St. its "greatest opportunities" and "lie in thought leadership and setting direction for the ACA.

"She must be a bright and inspirational leader for the ACA and as arts ambassador in Arlington and surrounding communities. Linda Shoemaker is uniquely suited to this role and we anticipate her effectively and gracefully connecting in new and exciting ways with the wide and growing variety of arts organizations in Arlington."

Chasan also addressed the center's operation. There, "the challenge is to inspire the organization to understand the arts learning and recreational interests of our community, and to deliver arts programs that people love to attend.

"Now after 25 years of successful operations, we're in a strategic-planning process to find new and exciting ways to serve Arlington families -- from young children to seniors -- and Linda is the ideal leader to carry it forward."

5 finalists after Budzyna left

The search process began soon after Budzyna left. Chasan wrote that the search committee considered all applications, conducted about a dozen phone interviews with semifinalists and "settled on a group of five very strong finalists, who we interviewed in person.

"We were honored to hear from such a strong group of candidates and we are incredibly fortunate that Linda was among them. Her years of experience, her energy, passion for the arts and proven community engagement made her the perfect candidate."

After learning last Sept. 20 that Budzyna had resigned, YourArlington reached out to then-board Chair Eric Stange, who cited "a variety of personal reasons. After seven very productive years I think he felt -- rightly -- that he'd contributed a great deal to the ACA and to the town."

Budzyna lives in Newburyport and has been heavily involved in theater projects on the North Shore.

Stange wrote at the time: "He's leaving the organization in very capable hands with Linda as acting executive director and a great team. We'll miss him!"

Budzyna has not responded to calls and emails seeking comment.

'Fresh energy'

In announcing the new appointment Jan. 6, Chasan wrote in a news release: Shoemaker "brings fresh energy, dynamic leadership and a deep commitment to the ACA in her new role. Arlington Center for the Arts just celebrated its 25th anniversary; the Board and the ACA community are excited to begin the next 25 years with Linda at the helm."

During a decade as the center's communications director, Shoemaker had responsibility for all aspects of marketing, communications and community outreach. 

Chasan said she has been instrumental in the development of many of the center's signature community programs, including the annual "Images of Arlington" exhibit and the Alan McClennen Community Arts Award. McClennen, a former longtime town planning director, was instrumental in launching at the arts center at the former Gibbs School.

Before coming to the ACA, Shoemaker worked for Arsenal Center for the Arts and the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.  

She holds a Ph.D. from the State University of New York, Binghamton, and master's and bachelor's degrees from Simmons College in Boston.

Musical background

In addition to her work in nonprofit arts administration, she is engaged in a number of community music organizations, including the internationally touring choir, Sharing a New Song, and the Mystic Chorale, where she is a former member of the board of directors.

Shoemaker is also an accomplished hand-drummer and percussionist, and is the founder and artistic director of Kukublu, a women’s African drum-and-song ensemble.

"I am thrilled to continue to serve the Arlington Center for the Arts in this new capacity," Shoemaker said in the news release. "I am a passionate advocate for community arts, because I have seen the magic and transforming power of the arts firsthand here at ACA, and in my own life.

"I look forward to working with the community to expand our arts programming in ways that will help make Arlington a more vibrant and creative place to live, learn and grow."

The Arlington Center for the Arts is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to being the "heart of the arts in Arlington," a vital arts hub providing engaging arts classes, workshops, camps, exhibits and performances to Arlington and surrounding communities.

For more information about ACA, including the winter 2014 catalog and registration links, visit www.acarts.org.


This story was published Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014.

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