With a dynamic new interim director at Methow Arts, the organization is well-positioned to continue its work enriching lives through the arts.
Missi Smith, a veteran leader in the Methow Valley arts scene, moved into the interim director position in mid-September, taking the helm of an organization that she has worked for and collaborated with for many years in a different capacity: both as a teaching artist in Methow Arts’ Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program and as an administrator of a fellow arts organization.
The former executive director of The Merc Playhouse, Smith taught theater and dance programs in the schools with Methow Arts’ AIR program, as well as with Methow Valley Elementary School’s afterschool program, Cub Club. During early COVID, when schools offered only remote and hybrid learning, Smith recorded dance instruction videos in “Studio A” — Methow Arts’ remote instruction video program.
During Smith’s eight-year tenure at The Merc, she established a strong relationship with local schools and supported the enhancement of the children’s theater program, now called the Tom Zbyszewski Children’s Theater program, in honor of the young local student and actor who was killed while fighting the Twisp River Fire in 2015.
On behalf of Methow Arts’ board of directors, board president Sarah Jo Lightner — herself an artist, former executive director of The Confluence: Art in Twisp, and current executive director of Methow Recycles — said, “There is so much excitement about Missi joining Methow Arts: her creativity, her specific skillset in education, and her background in performance production. We can collectively take a sigh of relief that we have this powerhouse coming in to lead the organization and help us find our next long-term leader.”
Methow Arts has undergone leadership transition in the past six months. The departure of a longtime executive director led Methow Arts’ board to contract with independent nonprofit consultant Betsy Cushman as consulting director, but that was never intended to be a long-term position.
Now, as the Methow Arts board seeks its next long-term leader, Smith — supported by the dynamic duo of Education Director Margaret Kingston and Program Coordinator Patti Somerville — will ensure that Methow Arts’ core programs in the schools and in the community remain strong and that they evolve to answer educational and community needs.
For Smith, the new role at Methow Arts is both familiar and a challenge. “It’s a different organization than a performing arts venue, but it’s still in my lane,” Smith said. “I’ve always loved Methow Arts’ mission and I’m really proud of being a part of the school arts programs that are offered free of charge to all students. It is fun to be behind the scenes now and see how all that work happens. I look forward to helping those programs thrive.”
Lightner emphasizes the impact of Methow Arts’ free programs in the schools, from visual to performing to literary arts. “These programs ensure there is no barrier to access to the arts,” she said. “The work that Methow Arts does in the schools is so important and vital.”
Lightner points out that arts programs in the schools also help bring the community together. “They help make the connection from school to arts events outside of school,” she said. “Plays, exhibits, public art, public events — those are things that kids learn about in school and then bring those ideas home to their families.”
Examples include field trips to The Confluence to view exhibits and write about art, watching plays at The Merc, creating block print art to promote Methow Valley Kids’ Fishing Day, participating in Poetry Out Loud or the Young Writers Conference, and acting in Missoula Children’s Theatre, to name a few Methow Arts programs that include both a school and a community component.
This community outreach is something that both Smith and Lightner look forward to expanding through Methow Arts. “Art helps create community,” Lightner said.
Smith added that she anticipates having close, collaborative relationships with other arts organizations in the valley and to “knowing what each organization is up to, what we all have going on, and how we can work together to enrich lives through the arts.”
Smith already has strong relationships with many of the arts leaders in the valley and intends to develop alliances with those she doesn’t know as well.
“Missi has tons of new ideas — really great collaborative ideas and solutions. She’s the perfect person to help navigate the organization to its future,” Lightner said. “The board is really looking forward to working with her and seeing the next chapter for Methow Arts.”
Lightner and Smith know that their time together is relatively short, since Smith’s position is temporary. “But we share a long-term vision for what is possible for Methow Arts and we have a shared vision for the future,” Lightner said. At the center of that vision is the conviction that art builds community — and in a small rural place like the Methow Valley, it is the community that must sustain the arts.
Arts programs in the schools are up and running, including a program that was created by Methow Arts as a launching pad to having a K-5 art teacher on the staff at Methow Valley Elementary — the Youth Arts Initiative, which is now a school program that provides regular art instruction to all elementary students.
Working on things
Smith has “some irons in the fire” for Methow Arts’ popular performance series, which brings performing artists and groups into the schools to perform for students and into various venues in the valley to perform for community members. Methow Arts is bringing Missoula Children’s Theatre back to the Methow Valley in November for an annual theater arts experience for 1st-12th grade students; this year’s play is “Hercules.” Smith is also hoping to schedule a performance for adults around the winter holidays.
In general, Smith will focus on continuing Methow Arts’ programing and ensuring its financial stability, while Lightner will turn her attention to the upcoming search for the organization’s next executive director, although Smith is working closely with the hiring committee on that effort as well. They’re also both working to bolster board involvement, and are actively seeking community members with time, energy, and a passion for the arts to work with their current board members.
Lightner said she will also work with the Town of Twisp to “reignite the Creative District designation,” which was a distinction awarded to Twisp in June 2020, as part of Washington State’s Certified Creative District program that is a legislative initiative designed to support the state’s creative economy.
“There will be an opportunity in the next month or so for community members to get involved in co-creating a shared vision for our Creative District,” she said. Both Lightner and Smith were on the original committee that helped Twisp earn its Creative District designation.
The Creative District designation is just one example of a collaborative effort that resulted in a big win for community and for the arts. Lightner and Smith hope to continue that momentum forward with future collaborations, both with other arts organizations and with the community. “All the arts will benefit from this kind of work,” Smith said.
Lightner added, “The sky’s the limit.”