Lawrence Arts Center selects new director

Reception planned Nov. 21

A reception for David Leamon, new executive director of the Lawrence Arts Center, will be from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 21 at the arts center, 940 N.H. The reception also will welcome two other new hires – Sandy Sander, director of development, and Rick Yarnell, director of business.

A longtime librarian will become the next executive director of the Lawrence Arts Center.

David Leamon, who served as director of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library from 1992 to 2005, will come out of retirement to lead the arts center starting Nov. 17.

“It contributes to the ambiance of Lawrence,” Leamon said of the arts center. “There’s a lot to look at. It’s uplifting – we need more of that, particularly in this climate.”

The selection, announced Friday, ends an 11-month search to replace longtime director Ann Evans, who retired at the end of 2007.

Officials thought they had made a hire in June, when they narrowed their finalists to one – Talena Mara, a former education director at New York City Opera who also has taught at the Juilliard School in New York. But the center’s board and Mara weren’t able to come to terms.

This time, Dan Sabatini, the architect who chaired the search committee, said he’s satisfied the arts center found its man.

“I’m extremely happy,” he said. “I think we found the correct fit for us.”

Leamon guided the Topeka library through construction of a new library in 2002 that is regarded as one of the best in the region. He led the re-establishment of the Library Foundation and helped raise more than $4 million for its activities.

Previously, he served as director of the San Antonio Public Library.

Though his career has been focused on libraries, he has a bachelor’s degree in art and served as an art teacher after college. He also has incorporated art exhibition space into the libraries he helped construct in San Antonio and Topeka.

Leamon said he wants to rejuvenate the excitement that was created when the Lawrence Arts Center moved to its new facility, at 940 N.H., in 2001. He listed increased advertising as one of his immediate goals for the arts center, saying the center should serve as a regional hub for the arts.

He also said fundraising would be a priority for the center, which has a $1.4 million annual budget and 16 full-time staff members. He’d eventually like to expand the facility but admits the economic climate isn’t right to pursue that now.

Despite being in his late 60s, Leamon said he has no plans to be a short-term director.

“If I can really get this thing going and develop a strong rapport with the staff and the public, I’d probably love to keep doing this,” he said. “It’s one of those things I always dreamed of, but I never thought I’d cross an opportunity like that.”