Nine years ago, Roger Smith took the helm of a local arts group.
At the time, he wanted to take the Perry County Council of the Arts in new, exciting directions, while building upon the existing, strong foundation. And, reflecting back, that’s exactly what he did.
Under Smith’s leadership, PCCA became an Arts-in-Education Partner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, making PCCA responsible for placing professional artists in classrooms in seven counties around Pennsylvania. He also oversaw the upgrade and development of Landis House, a 5,000-square-foot mansion that features the many artifacts and artworks of one of the county’s most prominent families.
“When I signed on nine years ago, PCCA already had a reputation for a thriving regional arts culture,” said Smith, who recently retired.
That reputation had been decades in the making, ever since a group of 11 people sat around a kitchen table to form an arts support group. Smith became PCCA’s fifth executive director.
“The thing I will remember the most is the people,” he said. “From the beginning, the outpouring of support and good will was palpable. And I’m talking about artists, volunteers, donors, businesspeople, audience members. Everyone was appreciative of the role that PCCA played in the region.”
He also fondly recalls the renovation of Landis House, perhaps his most significant accomplishment, overseeing its transformation into museum, gallery and performance space.
In 2007, long-time Newport resident Mary Landis bequeathed her home to PCCA. The property, however, had suffered from years of deferred maintenance, making its restoration a monumental project. Over the past decade, volunteers and contractors completed its transformation into a vibrant community asset.
“In fact, I am proud to report that, since we celebrated the completion of interior reconstruction in 2014, our ‘Creative Commons,’ as it’s called, has been used more than half the days of each year as a venue for exhibitions, concerts, classes, meetings, receptions, special events and even as overnight accommodations for visiting artists,” Smith said.
Erika Juran now will take up Smith’s mantle—and his mission.
Juran is a lifelong artist who won her first art contest at just 8 years old. After receiving her fine arts degree, she became the first winner of a solo show for the then-new Delaware Division of the Arts. Though her recent professional background is in corporate and nonprofit management, she’s always kept a hand in creating art and, in fact, is a PCCA member artist.
“Art has always been a big part of my life,” said the new executive director. “My mom brought me up helping her at fine craft and art fairs, making signs for her tables where she sold fine, pieced quilt work. We spent weekends traveling to art and craft shows and museums.”
Juran believes that the arts can connect people and communities in unique, vibrant ways. Here in central Pennsylvania, she sees a “golden triangle” for the arts spanning the Harrisburg, Lancaster and York metro areas, but added that this connection must be fostered and supported.
“I consider arts leadership to be a calling, not just a career,” she said. “Now is an especially crucial time for us to strengthen support for the arts.”
Many communities and regions have leveraged the arts as a key part of their economic development plans, which Smith believes could be important to PCCA going forward.
As an example, he cites the many motorists and buses that arrive to visit the Quilt-Barn Trail, a loop of seven painted quilts that have been mounted on barns along Perry County roadways. Along the way, the visitors stop for gas, food, shopping and guilty pleasures like ice cream and wine, helping to build the economy of Perry County.
“One of my dreams is, since Perry County is such a vibrant place to live and the arts play a significant role in this, native Perry Countians who moved away years ago will return, bringing their businesses and job skills with them,” he said.
For Juran, her predecessor’s work, particularly the PCCA Gallery and Landis House, offers a strong foundation on which to build. In addition, she wants to educate the community about the extent of PCCA’s work, reaching well beyond Newport and Perry County.
“We want to be sure we are reaching as many artists of every discipline, and all those who love art, to be sure they are aware of our support, our events and our programs,” she said.
Perry County Council of the Arts is located at 1 S. Second Street, Newport. To learn more, call 717-567-7023 or visit www.perrycountyarts.org.
Author: Don Helin