DeWitt native Barb Whitney is no stranger to art. After attending Kalamazoo College and receiving a bachelor’s degree in art and art administration, Whitney was hired right out of college in her dream field — you guessed it — art.
Currently serving as the Executive Director for the Lansing Art Gallery, Whitney has had quite the colorful palate of art experiences in the past, which led to her current career.
Whitney traveled the country with a performing arts group doing musical theater through college, but it was an art class that really changed her life.
“I developed a really sincere and deep love for the visual arts when I was in college. I’ve been performing my whole life, so I had a performing arts background,” said Whitney. “But when I took a basic drawing class, it changed my life. That was when I knew that I wanted to pursue the visual arts as a career in one way or another.”
After college, Whitney was hired in the arts field, serving as an arts administrator at a pottery place. She worked in the gallery, giving tours and facilitating educational workshops.
Her favorite part about this job was when she was able to work with students, serving as a teaching artist in grant programs in the Detroit Public Schools.
Whitney first started at the Lansing Art Gallery in 2004, and worked there until 2012, when she left to work with the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. In 2014, bringing with her years of experience with nonprofit culture and grant writing, Whitney returned to the Lansing Art Gallery as the executive director, and no day has been the same since.
Her daily duties include public relations, marketing, fund development, oversight of staff and programs and that’s just the beginning. Regularly scheduled leadership lunches also allow for collaboration, networking and sharing of feedback between local organizations.
“I also interface with our board of directors and am responsible for leading the strategic vision of this organization,” she said.
One day’s agenda could include grant writing, a ribbon cutting ceremony, press release writing, paperwork and of course, interacting with the many Lansing Art Gallery visitors. Since the gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday and the first Sunday of the month, interaction with the public is just as much a part of her job as is the paperwork.
“There’s some work that can be done at home or after hours, and a great deal of that is done that way just because we are open and accessible to the public; so it’s important that our staff is also accessible to visitors, businesses and residents of the area,” Whitney said.
While there are plenty of back-to-back meetings for this very busy career woman, she’s managed to juggle crammed schedules surprisingly well. On top of the nontraditional hours she works (nights, weekends, lunch breaks, etc.), Whitney also attends U of M Flint for her master’s degree in arts administration.
Lansing has a very fruitful and supportive relationship amongst its arts and cultural organizations, providing the ability to network and share feedback — something that makes the area that much more special, according to Whitney.
While this passionate, driven leader works diligently for the Lansing Art Gallery, she will be the last to brag or boast.
Priding her staff on their dedication to the gallery is what keeps her coming back to work early and prepared to stay late.
“We have an incredible staff and incredible board. Both of those things are very near and dear to my heart,” Whitney said. “They’re the people that I interact with day in and day out, so it makes my job a joy when I feel those closest to the heart of the organization are dependable and considerate and dedicated to this organization in the same way I feel I am. That trust for me is really important.”
Putting trust in the surrounding community is also vital for the Lansing Art Gallery. While the organization is 50 years old, they’re constantly changing and drafting up new art exhibits, interactive displays, workshops and programs. Aimed at getting even more people exposed to the wonderful world of art, the Lansing Art Gallery has even more projects in the works.
“We have a few pending projects of which I can’t divulge details, but if they come to pass, I think we’ll be really dynamic and engaging next summer involving business, residents and visitors in a way they’ve not been involved with the arts in the past,” Whitney said.
If the past year is any indication of how Whitney will successfully lead an organization full of art lovers, here’s a cheers to the next 50 years with the Lansing Art Gallery.