Three years ago, Lexington Arts and Crafts Society, known as LexArt, needed a change. The organization, founded in 1935, was based on outdated methods and an inward mindset.
“We believe it’s about bringing the organization into the 21st century,” said Katina Leodas, Chairman of the Board of LexArt.
The problems were varied. LexArt’s expenses increased and its revenues either decreased or stagnated. The group’s statutes had also not been updated since 1953. On top of that, it operated with a leadership structure that was reversed every year. This lack of continuity has hampered LexArt’s ability to adapt and grow as an organization, Leodas said.
LexArt offers courses for members and the general public. Members also have access to a fully equipped carpentry workshop, a ceramics workshop with several kilns, a metal and jewelry making workshop, and much more. Members can access the building and studios at any time of the day.
In the future
The organization is divided into nine guilds, from needle arts to photography and painting. Until that time, the board consisted only of presidents from each guild. In addition to the frequent rolling of these chairs, the mindset for many was centered around their individual guilds, rather than LexArt as a whole.
“Each guild functioned as a community on its own, and each guild president came to the board seeking parish interests in his own guild,” said Leodas. “No one was looking for the interests of this extraordinary 86-year-old organization.”
The place of art in society at large and the way an artists’ organization worked within a community had changed dramatically since the inception of LexArt, said executive director Matthew Siegal. Those who decided the policy were not the ones who had a fiduciary responsibility to the organization, he added.
Thus, changes have been made. An external expert was called upon to rewrite the statutes. The old structure of the board of directors has been re-equipped. And, perhaps most importantly, a concerted effort has been made by management to turn LexArt’s attention outward, to community participation and awareness.
“I am convinced that arts organizations have community responsibilities, that you cannot exist as an arts organization without providing services and leadership.” Siegal said.
The group had previously worked with non-members in town and beyond, Siegal said, including high school exhibits and annual performances with cultural groups in Lexington. But now he’s trying to turn the attention even more outward, providing greater service to the community. This includes expanding needs-based scholarships for seniors and veterans, creating offerings for teenagers, and working with the city’s human rights committee on a special exhibit. Race Amity Day featuring submitted works.
Siegal, who became Executive Director about six months ago, brings a unique perspective to LexArt. He worked for years as president of curatorial and collections management at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, learning to promote the arts and cultivate a strong network around them.
LexArt was stepping up its search for a new executive director when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Leodas said. At the same time, the MFA informed the staff that they had to make cuts. The museum offered Siegal a buy-back program, which he agreed to before considering his name for the LexArt job.
The opportunity was one that Siegal had already considered, he said, and he was already a member of LexArt’s board of directors.
“It’s four miles from my home, I feel like it’s my community, and it’s a way for me to give back. This is what I thought I would always do, COVID just pushed back the five year schedule for me, ”he said.
A generous gift
Even before Siegal’s move, the changes taking place at LexArt were already starting to pay off. About a year and a half after this concerted evolutionary effort began, the organization received a significant donation from Joseph Nye. The Lexington resident had been dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, worked in the State Department during the Carter administration and in the Department of Defense during the Clinton administration.
Nye donated $ 250,000 to LexArt in honor of his wife, Molly, on her 80th birthday. Molly is a dedicated and long-time member of the organization.
For LexArt executives, Nye’s gift was confirmation that their work was being noticed.
“He’s someone who wouldn’t have given us a quarter of a million dollars before the transformation… It meant a vote of confidence in what was going on here,” Leodas said.
The money was mainly used to renovate LexArt’s gallery, now known as Mollly Harding Nye Gallery. The space has been transformed with a more open ceiling, modern lighting, polished concrete floors, an ADA-compliant bathroom, more storage, and COVID-specific air purifiers.
“It’s a huge step forward, to have a real gallery that feels appropriate for a street space,” Siegal said.
Nye’s donation led to more opportunities for LexArt. This allowed the organization to match a large grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, allowing LexArt to fund even more improvements to its building.
This summer will be full of workshops with well-known guest artists, and an artist-in-residence program is also being created, Siegal said. The offerings for teens will expand in the fall and the management of LexArt is working on more courses for children and adults.
“When you bring together a group of makers from different backgrounds, it’s a richer experience. Arts and crafts are better, ”said Leodas. “People come with their own design sensibilities, their own experiences. We are more than a set of workshops. We are a community.