Brushing up the foundation
Durango Arts Center hires new exhibits director

Heather Leavitt poses in her new office, the main gallery of the Durango Arts Center, on Tuesday. Leavitt is taking over as DAC’s exhibits director./Photo by David Halterman

by Stew Mosberg

The proverbial other shoe has finally dropped at the Durango Arts Center (DAC). Operating without an exhibits director since the departure of Susan Anderson, the DAC has hired Heather Leavitt to fill the vacancy.

Leavitt, an artist herself and the founder/publisher of Arts Perspective magazine, as well as one of Durango’s most ardent advocates of the arts, might well have been born for the position.

Officially starting work Sept. 8, Leavitt is no stranger to curating art shows. She was program and exhibits coordinator at the Carnegie Art Center in Leavenworth, Kans., and attended the Arts Management Institute Masters’ program for Arts Administration.

After moving to Durango to take a graphic design job and be in the mountains, she started Arts Perspective to remain connected to the arts. By the time the previous DAC exhibits director job opened up, Leavitt was too busy getting her fledgling publication off the ground, so she never applied. However the idea of being the DAC exhibits coordinator, as well as what will now also include programming duties, was never far from her mind. When Anderson left, Leavitt immediately approached DAC’s new Executive Director Carson Jones and made it known, in no uncertain terms, that she wanted the job.

Already familiar with each other, the synergy between the two women was apparent from their first meeting and the idea of working together was so appealing Jones agreed to hire Leather on the spot. With the DAC Board solidly behind the appointment, Leavitt mapped out a plan to continue at Arts Perspective, which she believes, “is a great way for the DAC to reach out to the community.”

When asked why she wants to direct the exhibit gallery when her publication is doing well, or that such a full time endeavor will limit the time she will have for creating her own art, Leavitt says, “This is a way for me to connect to the arts community in a bigger way. I’ve been listening to artists. I’ve been listening to their needs. I’ve been hearing great things and some not so great things about the Durango Arts Center for four-and-a-half years. And I want to be a part of what’s happening there (DAC) so I can grow the arts community in another way.”

While it’s still too early for definitive future exhibition plans, Leavitt likes certain aspects of the existing exhibit schedule. For example, she favors “the mix of exhibitions and the group shows of local and regional artists.” However, she adds, “I’d also like to see more national traveling shows that people in Durango can’t always go out to bigger cities to see … I would like to see some shorter shows that are intense, and bring in people just for the show … maybe just three-day shows. I would like to support artists on every level so that we’re exhibiting work but also educating the public about all kinds of art.”

Leavitt knows that one of her strengths is in programming, and she is hopeful that programs such as workshops and classes for all ages can be offered.

In discussing the use of the Local Expressions gallery, the upstairs library, and the Barbara Conrad Gallery, she says, “I’m looking forward to working with the various gallery groups to get them to work together to offer a full spectrum program. Carson and I agree that all three galleries should have very distinct missions. I see opportunities everywhere. There’s a great foundation there, we just need to add on. I really want to work with the staff. As with any not-for-profit, they need a lot more support.”

Leavitt talks excitedly about what lies ahead, including wanting to hold a professional development conference that brings in a motivational speaker who is a successful artist, someone who can offer artists the resources to help them in their professional pursuit, to teach them about exhibiting and how to market themselves.

As a champion of local artists, Leavitt recently started a monthly networking group that meets to discuss artists’ needs and offer an open dialogue and a support mechanism. That same group will now meet at the Arts Center, and as she quickly points out, as much as it takes a village to raise a child, “It will take the community to build an art community. I am really excited about serving the community in this way.”

Leavitt also recounts how she wanted the exhibit director position for the last 10 years, and after meeting Jones she thought, “I really want to work for her.”

The feeling is mutual for Jones. The two ardent art supporters had been sharing ideas since they first met, and Jones recalls, “When I got the job as executive director, we dove into so many conversations about (DAC) ... we have a shared vision and are aligned in a lot of our thinking.”

The renewed energy at the Arts Center is almost palpable and although one can only speculate on the result, it is apparent that more positive changes are afoot. •



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