Her mother was a lover of all things arts, who put Sear and her brother in all kinds of arts activities from a very young age. “She was the quintessential stage mom,” Sear said, “and I mean that in a good way.”
Her enthusiasm for the arts rubbed off on her children, so much so that both were performing professionally before they'd graduated from high school. Sear danced in New York; her brother sang overseas with a boys choir. “It was life,” she said. “It was just growing up in the arts.”
On the other side was her father, who worked in real estate and insurance. When it came time for Sear to choose a career path, he told her, “You're going to get a real degree.”
Her bachelor's was in economics. “I really thank him for that wisdom,” she said. She followed up with a master's in arts administration and a master's of business administration—which seemingly melded both of her parents' strengths.
She's worked both sides, arts and business, for several years in western Pennsylvania and was “ready to take on my next challenge,” she said, when she applied for and was hired to be the new executive director of the Wayne Center for the Arts. She replaces Robb Hyde, who retired earlier this summer.
Sear has been a consultant in the nonprofit arena for several years and mostly recently served as the director of the Sharon-based Penn Ohio Arts & Industry Innovation Initiative, which married business revitalization through arts initiatives. Sear worked to move three startup organizations—Waterfire Sharon, the James E. Winner Jr. Arts & Culture Center and the Penn-Ohio Center for Arts and Technology—from development to implementation. She then served as the interim executive director of the WaterFire Sharon with the understanding she would remain only until a permanent director could be found.
After that, Sear said she consulted for clients “and was sort of keeping my eye open for what is the next right position for me.”
She heard about the opening in Wooster and asked some potter friends if they were familiar. They gave the arts center a thumbs up, based on their own experiences with its annual Functional Ceramics Exhibition & Workshop.
And the arts center board gave Sear the thumbs up as well. “She will be a dynamic leader and a passionate advocate for the arts who will inspire our patrons, students, members, community partners and the other organizations with whom we partner,” said board Chair Jennifer Burke. Burke also lauded the work of interim executive director Steve Nichols, crediting his “professional expertise in business and institutional organization” with getting the center through the transition period.
After just a few weeks on the job, Sear said she has found plenty to love, including the center's commitment to both the visual and performing arts. In addition, she was impressed by its longevity and by its community involvement and partnerships. “It is a beloved institution,” she said, with many people having been touched by at least one of its program. And, she noted, it's in a good place. “For a small town to have such a vibrant community is not a usual thing,” she said.
At this point, Sear said, she is in an information-gathering stage, looking for ways to increase the center's visibility and accessibility through partnerships and future development. With the kickoff of the annual appeal coming in September, she said, she realizes time is short. But her philosophy is simple: “If you have a great program that is accessible and relevant to the community, that always generates new levels of giving.”
Sear sees a real connection between the artist and the entrepreneur, both envisioning something that previously did not exist. “That's the common thread of everything I do,” she said.,
She brings not only business and nonprofit savvy to the job, but also a lifetime of experience in dance, as a performer, a dance studio owner and a college-level dance instructor. While she has not taught for five years, Sear said her philosophy of teaching is not unlike her leadership philosophy. A one-time student who had gone on to become a professional dancer had come back to take one Sear's classes. The student told her that the class was just as good and familiar as it had been 20 years ago. The comment, she said, “cast a big light on something I knew was happening. I was coasting along. I was challenging everybody but myself. If it's the same great class it was 20 years before, how great was it?”
For Sear, work is about being challenged and bringing something to the table. “I see myself being here as long as I'm needed and as long as I'm relevant,” she said.
She laughed. “So, you could be stuck with me for 20 years... or less.”
Published: July 27, 2014