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Peterborough/Sharon

Sharon Arts loses its director

Wiederspahn chases a dream

Keri Wiederspahn, Roger Williams, Sharon Arts Center
(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Keri Wiederspahn, Roger Williams, Sharon Arts Center (Staff photo by Dave Anderson) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

After three years at the Sharon Arts Center, Executive Director Keri Wiederspahn is resigning from the community arts organization and planning to pursue a new opportunity in Vermont.

“I’ve been working on a potential project for quite a while, even before I started with Sharon Arts,” Wiederspahn said last week. “It’s been percolating on the sidelines and finally got the funding it needs.”

She said she couldn’t provide a lot of details about her new project yet, but said it would involve her working in southern Vermont. She said her husband, filmmaker Aaron Wiederspahn, will continue to be based in Keene, where he’s on the staff of the Monadnock International Film Festival.

“We won’t be going very far away,” Wiederspahn said.

Wiederspahn has been serving in two roles following the 2012 merger of the Sharon Arts Center with the New Hampshire Institute of Art, which is based in Manchester. She’s been supervising the classes that are held in Sharon, as well as exhibits and gallery space in Peterborough, and also coordinating the NHIA’s new Master of Fine Arts program, which will graduate its first class next summer.

“It’s a two-year degree, based on the low-residency model,” she said. “Students stay working in their own studios and come here for two 10-day periods each year, at the end of June and in January. It’s total immersion while in the residential mode. I don’t think we could have launched it in Manchester. Here, there’s a bit more of a retreat feeling. Folks have really appreciated the environment.”

The MFA program has four offerings — visual arts, photography, creative writing and writing for stage and screen. Some of the students are housed at the Sharon Arts campus in Sharon and the program is also going to use Sargent Center as a site for stage and screenwriting students. The first class has about 38 students.

“Our goal is to get close to 1oo,” Wiederspahn said. “Word of mouth is growing. It’s a viable program and that’s a positive thing to leave with.”

Wiederspahn said the Sharon Arts Center programs have been on an upward trajectory recently.

“We’d gone through some bleak times, financially, when I first came on board,” she said. “I think we’ve been able, with a wonderful board of trustees, to shore up the situation by creating this merger with the NHIA.”

Wiederspahn said all the classes being offered locally and the exhibits and art gallery in Peterborough will remain in place. She’s also excited about progress toward building a Japanese wood-fueled anagama kiln in Sharon.

“We’re going gangbusters on getting that kiln, and we plan to create a Japanese garden alongside the kiln,” she said. “It will really be quite wonderful. It will have great value for the ceramic artisans in the community and will be a learning tool as well.”

Richard Strawbridge, the executive vice president of the NHIA, said Wiederspahn’s resignation will leave a void.

“I’m certainly sorry to lose her,” Strawbridge said on Friday. “Keri really had an awful lot to do with our merger and she’s been doing multiple tasks since then. We wish her all the best.”

Strawbridge said both the Sharon Arts Center in the Monadnock region and the NHIA in Manchester offer many community arts programs. He said it probably makes sense to combine that programming under the leadership of one person and perhaps create a separate job for someone to be a campus director overseeing the MFA programs in Peterborough.

Wiederspahn and Strawbridge both said the local Sharon Arts staff will be able to handle the transition well.

“We have some very strong people out there in Sharon and Peterborough,” Strawbridge said.

In a letter to members of the Sharon Arts community, Wiederspahn wrote, “Thank you for entrusting Sharon Arts to me over the past few years. It has been an invaluable experience, allowing me to gain an even greater appreciation of the importance of a creative community and the people that make it possible. I look forward to hearing of your ongoing creativity and growth.”

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