Interview with The Business Women's Group 2015

 
 

What would you say most motivates you to do what you do? 

MY ART STUDENTS….MY STUDENTS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS….MY CLELIAN HEIGHTS WOMEN….MY DRAWING STUDENTS WHEN THEY REALIZE THAT THEY CAN DRAW….

They inspire me to keep going, to continue the mission of Mr. Fred Rogers, to make them know that THIS is a place where they can come and be themselves, be treated extra special. 

Sometimes when people get frustrated, they need a “break”, “time out” to breath.  MY “break” is . . .time with my students….and then everything is back in perspective.

My students range from 3 to 83 years old.  I wish everyone could sit in on one class with my students to see the joy, the innocence, the fearlessness….they make me happy, and make me love what I do.  I never tell my students that they CANNOT do something, because THEY CAN. . . somehow, someway they can!

What are you most excited or passionate about? 

CREATING!  Creating new programs, events, art classes....workshops....the list could go on and on.  The best thing about my job is that it's not the normal "9 to 5" job where you come in and do the same mundane thing everyday.  We are constantly doing something, going somewhere, interacting with artists and the community.  

Everyday I come up with different, crazy ideas. . .I will come into work and say "I HAVE A NEW IDEA, HERE'S WHAT I WANT TO DO. . . . . . ." And my staff groans and say "OOOOH NO, NOW WHAT!!!!"  

Latrobe Art Center aspires to continue to instill Mr. Fred Rogers mission to make everyone feel extra special. . .  I love to make people happy, to make people feel special, and to make people want to come back.  We love hearing "we throw good parties" because we do!!  We are constantly thinking about YOU, about YOU having a good time, and YOU wanting to come back. 

We are not afraid of "change" or "to try something new."  And because of that, I feel we are successful.

What are the goals you most want to accomplish (business/personal?  Not so much the goals that are in your job description, but the goals you hold personally?

I just hope that I can continue to be a strong leader and continue to grow each and everyday.  Inside my head, I am constantly setting the bar higher and higher for myself.  There is ALWAYS room for improvement and growth in a job, no matter where you rank.  Everyday, I remind myself of that.

Give me a brief history of The LAC.

The Latrobe Art Center opened its doors on June 15, 2002.  Mrs. Laney Rogers Crozier and the late Mrs. Elizabeth Hazlett had a vision to create an art center in downtown Latrobe where local artists and the community could visit and exhibit their work.  The building that was formally known as Camp Shoe Store transformed into “The Latrobe Art Center!” 

Everyone is always blown away by the talent that is in Latrobe.  We have 65 artists, local or within the area that are talented in all different media.  

They will be able to have freshly baked, made to order, sandwiches, homemade soups, and delicious sweets from our Neighborhood Café operated by Sun Dawg Café in Greensburg.  The Café has become very well established under the direction of Rachel and Ray Flowers.  The partnership between the LAC and Sun Dawg Café has been nothing but a positive experience.   

Sometimes you will walk in and be able to witness an art class going on, children having a field trips, musicians playing music, or live theatre taking place. 

Sometimes you can come and create an art activity yourself, realizing that you CAN participate in fun artful projects, and the results are amazing!

And just having that “good feeling” of being in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, and wanting to come back.

What lead you to this career?

About a year and half after the doors opened, I was asked to teach Saturday Morning Drawing Lessons to Young Children.  I was currently teaching private lessons out of my home, and also teaching graphic courses at Westmoreland Community College in Youngwood, so I was comfortable getting in front of a group and teaching the kids.

Shortly after, I was asked to serve on the board of directors.  Enrollment in the children’s art classes started to increase, and I started becoming more involved and volunteering with events.  Soon I became their graphic designer and webmaster, working part-time.  Part-time went to full time and I became the Director’s Assistant in all major events.  From there, I finally made it to the top and was promoted to Director.

What is most difficult or challenging as a woman leader? 

I remember a guidance counselor once encouraging me to think about "working from home," when I was in college.  I remember being quite offended by that comment.  He couldn't put past seeing my disability and me using a wheelchair.  His reasoning was that it would make it so much easier for me and everyone else involved if I just started my own business of freelancing and work from home, he said you have two strikes against you. . .you use a wheelchair and you are a woman. . .

It's true. . .I use a wheelchair and I am a woman, HOWEVER, I do not let that be my focus.  When I meet people for the first time, my goal and my challenge is to not let them focus on my chair, or my disability. . .they focus on what I have to offer, and what I am all about.  I have done this since Kindergarten, and sometimes depending on the situation, it can be more challenging than other, but in the end. . .it has been successful and rewarding.   

What is most rewarding?

Not being afraid to try new things and to stand up for what I believe in.  I do not surround myself with co-workers, volunteers, and individuals that make me feel less of a person.  I find people that are just as passionate and dedicated at their job as I am.

The Center has not grown solely due to my leadership and guidance, but due to the fact that I have a strong, passionate, dedicated team, and we work as ONE!  We may not always agree but we come together. . .we are there for each other. . .and we ALL want to see the Center succeed. We are "family" and as long as we are family anything is possible.

What advice do you have  for women entrepreneurs?

Do not let anyone tell you that YOU CAN'T because YOU CAN!  I hope that women will look at what I have accomplished and see that it isn't impossible to do something that you LOVE doing EVERYDAY!  There are so many young individuals out there that are programmed to pick a job that "makes the most money."  And they end up hating their job. . .and saying "you know what I should have been..." Don't end up being that person.  YOU can do WHATEVER IT IS YOU WANT TO DO!!  It might take years to accomplish your goal, but don't give up on it.  Keep going after it, and eventually . . .one day. . . .it happens, and all the struggles, tears, heart ache was all worth it!!

Do you view your contributions as successful to women in in business/entrepreneurs?  

I do. Very much so.

In what ways?  

I feel like the Latrobe Art Center has become a strong force in revitalizing Latrobe.  We have set an example, and because of that, new businesses see and want to be a part of that energy!  I love partnering with new businesses and with other non-profit organizations. . .I never see them as a threat or competition, I see them as another wonderful opportunity to build on what we already have.

What specifically have you accomplished?

UNDER MY DIRECTION – WE HAVE BEEN ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH THE FOLLOWING

(1)  Upgrading our facilities:  Addition of the Café and the Annex.

Each year we continue to grow in artists, and we need the facilities to accommodate them.  Therefore, we merged with the building next door to us.  The Annex provides more wall space, adds a second space for educational purposes, and adds a little lounge area for people who would like to just sit and relax.  We also were able to create a nice jewelry section where all of our jewelry and clothing are in one area.

(2)  Developing additional partnerships with businesses in displaying artwork at their facilities.

a.     We have 9 offsite locations that we currently display our artwork in

i.     Latrobe Commercial Bank & Trust on Ligonier Street
ii.     Rose Style Shoppe
iii.     Latrobe Chamber of Commerce
iv.     Latrobe Carpenter Steel
v.     Chef Dato’s Restaurant
vi.     Arnold Palmer Airport (waiting area)
vii.     Spring Hill Suites
viii.     Wine Bar in Laughlintown.

b.     How this works

i.     Every two months, we change out the paintings.  This is a free community opportunity to decorate your walls with beautiful art.  All you need to do is let us put the sticker on the wall saying it came from Latrobe Art Center.  If a visitor is interested in purchasing the art, they come to the Latrobe Art Center, pay for the piece, take the receipt back to the location and then take their painting home with them.

ii.     It’s easy, it’s simple, and it makes your office or waiting area look beautiful.

(3)  Reaching Out to other communities & organizations

a.     The Westmoreland Intermediate Unit has partnered with Latrobe Art Center in helping nurture their Early Intervention Classrooms with Art Education.  The Buddy Program, that is geared toward children with mental and physical disabilities, continues to grow in number each year.  St. Joe’s Early Intervention Classroom,  Greater Latrobe Elementary School’s Life Skill Class, Clelian Heights and the Arcare very active in this program.  The children attend the center for five weeks and do art projects that will stimulate their motor and social skills.  The main goal is for the children to feel that this is THEIR time to be able to express themselves freely and creatively.  This program is grant funded and therefore FREEfor the children.

(4) Community Outreach

a. Buddy Art Program

The Westmoreland Intermediate Unit has partnered with Latrobe Art Center in helping nurture their Early Intervention Classrooms with Art Education.  The Buddy Program is geared toward children with mental and physical disabilities, continues to grow in number each year.  St. Joe’s Early Intervention Classroom and Greater Latrobe Elementary School’s Life Skill Class are very active in this program.  A total of 38 children attend the center for five weeks and do art projects that will stimulate their motor and social skills.  The main goal is for the children to feel that this is THEIR time to be able to express themselves freely and creatively.  This program is grant funded and therefore FREE for the children.

 We have continued to form a strong partnership with the Greater Latrobe School District’s Latrobe Elementary School, Senior High School, Prince of Peace Preschool, Seton Hill Child Services, Fascination Station, Derry Preschool, Latrobe Kinderschull, and Christ the Divine Teacher School for our very successful Art Among Us Program.  Over 3,000 children walked through our doors last year.  The program consists of story time, a take home art project, a scavenger hunt, and then they end the day with a smoothie from the café. 

b.    Champion of the Arts

Partnering with the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit Foundation Champion of the Arts Program began in 2012, and has continued to grow each year.  There was a 31% increase from the first year of operation to the second (329 to 431). Through our Champion of Arts Exhibit we have been able to reach out to all 17 Westmoreland County School Districts. 

The exhibit is open to special needs children and adults throughout Westmoreland County who are mentally and physically disabled.  Those benefiting from the program include individuals who have Autism, Down Syndrome, Asperger Syndrome, behavioral issues and mental retardation as well as children who are blind and deaf.  Due to the huge demand for the program, the exhibit is split into two major shows throughout the school year: (1) in the Fall for the children ages 13 thru adulthood and (2) in the Spring for the children ages 7-12.

The purpose of this program is to provide children an opportunity to create. The process of creation will empower the children and provide them with a successful experience that will enhance their self-esteem. The recognition they receive through displaying their artwork in a professional gallery setting, for a 3 week period, encourages them to continue creating.  During the exhibit the participating school districts visit the Latrobe Art Center, allowing the students to view the artwork in a special setting, create an art project, participate in an interactive scavenger hunt, and enjoy smoothies from the café.

Inclusion of the Champion of the Arts Program in our schedule of events allows us to reach an additional 760 children that have NEVER been to the Latrobe Art Center before.   

c.    After School Art Program with CDT

One of the first subject to get “cut” out of a child’s curriculum is “Art.”  Due to this cut, Christ the Divine Teacher School approached the Art Center about creating an after school art club for the children that are very much interested in art.  Fifty children signed up for the Art Club.  Latrobe Art Center is responsible for educating the children and exposing them to all different media.  CDT visits Latrobe Art Center twice a month, after school, for an hour and a half.  The children have already had an art show at Latrobe Art Center where they got to hang and sell some of their work.  It has been very successful.  It is part of our Community Outreach programs

 d.  Nationally Known Artists Workshop – Expansion of the program.

Twice a year, Latrobe Art Center has been able to have Nationally Known Artists travel to Latrobe Art Center for a 3 to 5 day workshop.  In the past, we have had artists from Alabama, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Maine, and Arizona teach their techniques.   

Anywhere from 10 to 20 students fill the gallery for these workshops.  They travel from Massachusetts, West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio to Latrobe, Pennsylvania take the workshop.  In addition, four students from the Greater Latrobe Senior High School are chosen in the Spring to attend the workshop under a generous scholarship.  Through all the advertising and exposure Latrobe Art Center is recognized around the world.

e.  Penn Trafford Middle School

Since May of 2012, in the spring, we welcome Penn Trafford Middle School Art Classes.  They hang their art work and have an opening reception.  Latrobe Art Center’s goal is to continue to reach out to other districts to have the children be able to experience hanging their art in a professional setting.

(5) Tourism Program

Partnering with Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau

Latrobe Art Center aspires to help fulfill Mr. Roger’s vision by bringing attention to what downtown Latrobe has to offer to tourism.  Currently tourists tend to visit the areas around Latrobe.  People will visit St. Vincent, Fort Ligonier and Idewild Park and miss the heart of Latrobe – it’s downtown area.  Latrobe Art Center’s goal is aimed at increasing awareness of the tourism opportunities in downtown Latrobe, namely the availability of an artistic experience at the Latrobe Art Center. 

Partnering and networking are my two most important jobs.  Every chance I get to partner with a different organization. I do it.  It’s the most important thing because it brings NEW people in to town, into the Art Center and educates them about us.  Once they see what we are about, they want to come back.  They want to create, and then they tell their friends and bring their friends and the chain continues.

The following we people we have partnered with in just the five years that I have been director:

  • Westmoreland Intermediate Unit – helps us reach the 17 school districts within Westmoreland County
  • Greater Latrobe School District
  • Greater Latrobe Art Conservation Trust
  • Greater Latrobe Drama Club
  • Clelian Heights
  • Seton Hill University (Art Therapy Interns, Art Education Interns)
  • St. Vincent College (Graphic Design Interns, Marketing & Communication Interns)
  • Westmoreland Community College (Work Study Program, Graphic Design Interns)
  • Laurel Highlands Group Tourism Program
  • Latrobe Chamber of Commerce
  • Latrobe Community Revitalization Program
  • Latrobe Dairy Queen
  • Latrobe Carpenter Steel
  • Chef Dato’s – Pop the Cork events
  • Greater Latrobe Council for the Arts – just became a member
  • PA Rural Alliance Council for the Arts – sponsors our Elf on the Shelf Breakfast/Art Class
  • Action for Animals
  • Faith in Action
  • Relay for Life – Latrobe
  • All About Me Boutique
  • The Cabaret Theatre

What’s next for you/LAC?  What are you looking forward to?

Over the winter just completed Phase II of the Annex.  We raised the ceiling, put in brand new lighting, and installed another teaching mirror.  Over the Spring, we gained a new neighbor. . .All About Me Boutique.  We have adjoining doors that lead you right into the Boutique .. .. ..so you can continue to shop!!  When planning events, we coordinate with each other so that both of our businesses can grow.  It has been a great partnership.

My newest partnership is. . .THE CABARET THEATRE, located on Main Street, where the Latrobe Athletic Club used to be.  Originally this building was the Manos Theatre.  While the Cabaret Theatre is under renovation, we have partnered with John Carosella and his Cabaret Theatre to put on one-act shows during the months of September, October, and November.  I feel that theatre and art go hand in hand, so I look forward to building a strong partnership with the Theatre and coming up with exciting new events for the community.

Right now, we are a place that transforms every day.  Everything in the art center is movable due to the fact that we do it all. 

I hope to someday be able to continue to expand and have a space STRICTLY for the adult and children classes.