It wouldn't seem inappropriate for the Lawrence Arts Center to call Ann Evans, "mom."
Others were involved in giving birth to the center, but Evans is the only executive director it has ever known. She nurtured it in its first home, the former Carnegie Library building at Ninth and Vermont streets, and helped it spread its wings into a new space in the 900 block of New Hampshire in 2002. During that time, she added classes and events that have made the arts center a hub of community activity.
With her retirement at the end of this year, the center will begin a new chapter under a new leader.
Spending 33 years as the director of any nonprofit organization is no small feat. In the Carnegie building, Evans creatively utilized every inch of space to foster a variety of arts activities: visual arts, theater, dance, music and more. Space was limited, but it seemed to expand to fill whatever need it was called upon to fill.
With Evans at the helm, arts center offerings have grown from 20 classes serving 240 students a year to 450 classes with 8,500 students. The roster of classes covers everything from acrylics to yoga and many are taught by accomplished local artists. People of all ages come in the doors of the arts center every day to attend classes, visit the gallery or enjoy a performance. A heavy schedule of events opens the center's doors to thousands of people a year. There's never a dull moment.
Leading such a diverse operation is, no doubt, a challenge. So many artistic endeavors and temperaments would seem to require a special touch, a touch that Evans apparently has. There likely have been some hurt feelings or problems over the years, but they surely have been far outweighed by the positive impact the arts center has had on so many local residents.
Evans would be the first to acknowledge that no one does that alone. Hundreds of dedicated volunteers and board members have worked over the years to fund and oversee the center's operation. There is every reason to believe the center will continue to prosper after Evans' departure, but that doesn't mean she won't be missed. As one past president of the arts center board noted, Evans and the arts center "are intertwined forever."
It's a new chapter both for Evans and the arts center. We wish them both well.