Gem City Style: Erie Gives Day
An interview with Erie Arts & Culture director Anne O'Dell
Jessica Hunter (JH): Hi, Anne! Welcome to Erie! For those who haven't had the pleasure to meet you, can you share a little bit about yourself and your new role at Erie Arts & Culture (EAC).
Anne O'Dell (AOD): As the executive director, I steward resources so people thrive. I'm originally from West Virginia, grew up in Appalachia, and after being in the Washington D.C. region for 15 years, decided it was time to step into the next chapter of my life and career and move to a smaller city where I could work in service to the community and live a more balanced life. I love to cook, I am a yogi, and reading and listening to podcasts are some of my favorite things to do as well. I love keeping up with my family and friends and seeing all the great things they are doing in their lives, too.
JH: It's a pretty important job to be an ambassador to the many different artists and organizations that rely on EAC. Do you have any big plans for the organization or for your position, specifically?
AOD: It's most important to me that Erie Arts & Culture is sustainable beyond my time leading the organization. And, for an organization to be sustainable, it must be responsive to the community and nimble in how it evolves while holding true to its purpose. EAC is about to undergo a strategic planning phase, and the information we gather from people will determine the next five years of priorities and actions.
It's important that we [treat] endowments as [intended when] they were established, that we maintain our partnership with Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and that the programs we create and lead are sustainable both financially and personnel-wise. The role of executive director will be to engage fully with the six counties EAC serves through its partnership with Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and to fully connect and sustain this local ecosystem of arts, culture, and creative leaders here in the City of Erie.
JH: As the mural project was a larger vision (both literally and figuratively), what sort of long-term projects are on the horizon next?
AOD: The long-term projects will be determined by the strategic planning process. The mural project has been a great source of learning for EAC in its capacity and what it's capable of doing, as well as pushing the organization to ask, "How do we ensure sustainability of projects after they are launched and implemented? How do we plan for the future of these projects so that they serve the community for years to come?" We have to look at and fully understand what a very small team — we only have three full-time staff, one part-time staff, and two part-time contractors — is capable of doing so that the team stays vibrant and those we engage with in the projects are fully supported.
JH: Upon beginning your new role, what has the response been from Erie's artistic community?
AOD: I've been very welcomed by Erie's artistic community, as well as artists in the region. I am so excited to continue connecting with people and making my way through the six counties (Erie, Crawford, Mercer, Venango, Warren, and Lawrence) EAC serves. It's very inspiring for me to see how much fun people are having creating and sharing their work and the excitement that they feel is contagious. It's really awesome to see so many people creating opportunities and continuing to share their work with the world in big ways.
JH: What similarities and what differences have you noticed between Erie and Alexandria, Virginia?
AOD: Oh, wow, very little traffic compared to Alexandria and the D.C. region — also it feels lighter to live here. There's a lot of pressure in the D.C. region because it's such a center for international, national, regional, and local politics and business. It's also refreshing to be in a place where people have known each other for years. Your social circle will change about every four years in Northern Virginia/D.C. because people move in and out for work so often.
Similarities, though, people love their local coffee shops and restaurants, they value supporting local businesses, there's an expansion of downtown living just like Northern Virginia and D.C. have gone through, and people enjoy being out and about doing things.
JH: Erie is definitely a quirky and unique place. How are you finding it here? Do you have any favorite places or activities yet?
AOD: Every place is quirky and unique! I like being here, and I think it's one of the friendliest places I've moved to. I love Andora's Bubble Tea Shop — can't get enough boba tea! I'm also having fun discovering the local coffee shops. I very much enjoy walking Presque Isle because being out in nature and moving in it with the sun and water is very grounding for me. I feel very fortunate to be here. I also think the possibilities for doing things are endless — there's a lot to discover!
Consider making a donation to Erie Arts & Culture on Erie Gives Day at ErieGives.org
Jessica Hunter can be found at jessicahunterphotos.com