Decorah’s ArtHaus welcomes new co-directors
Friday, June 27, 2014 9:30 AM
After six years, the two public faces of ArtHaus -- co-founders Kristin Underwood and Lea Lovelace -- are stepping aside.
From left: Lea Lovelace, Eric Petersen, Jenni Brant and Kristen Underwood. (Photo by Julie Berg-
A Conversation With the New Directors
Decorah Newspapers: What were your first impressions about ArtHaus and Decorah?
Eric: We loved the abundance of solar collectors and wind power, biking and hiking trails, the parks, the bluffs, the waterfall and the simple beauty of the landscape. Having a great co-op in a thriving downtown with a variety of restaurants spoke volumes to us. And it was apparent that the arts were vibrant here; this was a key factor in our decision to relocate to Decorah.
Jenni: When it comes to ArtHaus, first of all, we felt an immediate connection and camaraderie with Kristen and Lea. We could feel the love and pride they have for ArtHaus and its importance in the community. We also sensed immediately that the community was very proud and invested in the art center. The office and studio spaces, plus the bonus courtyard shared with Vesterheim, are well-planned and cared for. There was a kids’ art camp in progress on our first trip to ArtHaus - we were smitten and we could tell that the kids, and the instructors, loved where they were and what they were doing.
DN: What are some ideas you have for the organization, as you move into your co-directorship?
Eric: Our first goal is to gain a strong understanding of Kristen and Lea’s original vision and what ArtHaus has now become to the community. We can envision expanding offerings to meet the needs of underserved populations like the elderly and special needs youth, initiating a mobile ArtHaus program, exhibiting artwork on a more regular basis in the space, and perhaps an artist-in-residence program.
Before starting anything new however we feel it is important to measure the community’s needs and always honor what the founders began.
DN: What role do you see art playing in the life of a community?
Eric: Art, in all its forms, gives people in any size community a chance to express themselves, both individually and collectively. It can provide the opportunity to come together for the sake of creation and expression, enhancing our communities and raising our consciousness.
Jenni: We feel that art promotes sharing and bonding at a more intimate level that makes the human experience more enriching and fulfilling. It fosters understanding, open-mindedness, and provides everyone with the opportunity to sing their little bird song.
Enter two new co-directors, Jenni Brant and Eric Petersen.
The couple, engaged to be married in the fall, are moving here from Nebraska and bring along “two four-legged, furry kids,” Brant says -- “a Japanese Harlequin house rabbit named Koji and an adopted sassy cat named Georgia Lee.”
They started work as co-directors of ArtHaus, Decorah’s home for the arts, last week.
Why the change?
“ArtHaus has really taken root over the last six years,” Underwood says. “We realized we were hardly teaching anymore ourselves because we were devoting all our energy to running this non-profit arts center -- scheduling classes and events, hiring instructors, fundraising, grant writing, dreaming about new programs.”
Still passionate about the role of the arts in community, Underwood and Lovelace started thinking it might be the best thing for ArtHaus to have some fresh energy to take over the administrative reins.
“We’re both looking forward to having more time to teach again,” Underwood says.
Since ArtHaus functions as a non-profit entity, it doesn’t “sell,” just changes hands.
“We told Jenni and Eric that it’s like we were searching for the right adoptive parents for our baby.,” Lovelace says. “We’re proud of the work we’ve done so far, and know that they’ll help it grow to the next level.
Love at first sight
Brant and Petersen first visited Decorah in Aug. 2013. They’d planned a camping trip to check out the town after extensive online research in their quest for a new home closer to Brant’s family.
“We really fell in love with Decorah,” Petersen recalls. “Even though we were just visiting at the time, everyone we met was so warm and welcoming. The community seemed engaged and forward-thinking, with pride in the appearance of their city and downtown.”
They’d already started making plans to move to Decorah when Brant came across an online posting for the directorship position at ArtHaus.
She called Petersen immediately and suggested they apply as a team.
“It has always been a dream of ours to run an art center together,” she says. “Especially one focused on programming and events for the community.”
Eric Petersen is largely a self-taught artist, who returned to academia for post-graduate training in ceramic processes and techniques at schools in New Mexico, Utah, Nebraska and Missouri.
He has extensive teaching experience in ceramics, painting, design and sculpture with all age groups in a variety of settings.
As a studio assistant to artist and educator Eddie Dominguez over several years, he has created small and large scale sculptural works for sale, exhibition and for public art projects. His own work examines the relationship of the individual to the forms and processes of the natural world manifested through the mediums of drawing, painting, clay and printmaking.
Brant has a BFA in ceramics from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and for the last 10 years has been living in eastern Nebraska, initially pursuing an MFA in ceramics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln followed by a career as a studio artist and the education director at LUX Center for the Arts.
In 2010, she become the executive director of the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, an artist residency program for visual artists, writers and composers from across the country and around the world.
She has maintained an active studio practice creating handmade functional pottery as well as beaded jewelry, linocut prints and public art installations. She travels often teaching clay-based workshops and presenting lectures on professional practices in the arts.