Ann Smith: Featherstone’s new director

Francine Kelly, left, and Ann Smith. Photo by Sam Moore

There’s been a changing of the guard at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs, but former executive director Francine Kelly did her best to ensure that her own energy, vision and spirit remain: She recommended that her daughter, Ann Smith, her assistant for the past three-and-one-half years, succeed her as the new executive director. The Featherstone Board of Directors voted unanimously to approve the recommendation.

“My mother brought great joy to Featherstone and I hope to continue in her footsteps, furthering the work of Island artists, reaching out to the next generation and increasing awareness of our many activities,” Ms. Smith says.

Nearly four years ago when Ms. Kelly needed expertise in computer technology to help strengthen the Island’s year-round nonprofit arts organization, she knew exactly who to call — her daughter, Ann.

A long-time summer resident of the Island, Ms. Smith watched as her mother worked to build Featherstone into a dynamic and multi-faceted arts destination since becoming its director in April, 2003. Already familiar with both the Vineyard and with Featherstone’s mission, Ms. Smith decided to leave her position as Head of School at the St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and relocate to the Vineyard. She became her mother’s assistant, eventually being named by the Featherstone Board as Associate Director and taking on more responsibility.

Several weeks ago, Ms. Kelly made the difficult decision to resign as Executive Director. “I turned 70 this past year and faced some health issues,” she explained. “I found it hard to keep up with the 24/7, and felt it was time to reconsider my energy level. I had accomplished much of what I set out to do and decided I’d rather focus on Featherstone’s upcoming 15th anniversary than expend my energies on the day-to-day operation.”

Knowing that her daughter was a willing and able replacement gave Ms. Kelly the peace of mind to announce her decision to step down. “They thought I’d die on the steps of Featherstone,” she said with a chuckle. “They didn’t think I’d give up. But I’m happy to have more time to pursue other interests and I’m confident that Ann’s background in administration, combined with her creativity and knowledge of art will serve Featherstone well.”

Ms. Smith, while sharing her mother’s aspirations for Featherstone, admits that they employ very different styles to accomplish their goals. “I have the same desire to see Featherstone excel,” she said. “But my mother is much more of a people-person. I focus on process and procedures. Collaboration is very important to both of us. I don’t envision dramatic changes. We’re on a good course.”

Ms. Smith looks forward to applying many of the skills she acquired during her years in education. Although she started her career with IBM, she quickly realized that corporate life wasn’t her calling. “I found that my real love was in not-for-profits and independent schools,” she said. After teaching computer science and technology to middle school students, she moved on to increasingly responsible positions in admissions, development, and alumni relations before becoming Head of School.

She holds degrees in History of Art and Economics from the University of Michigan and has traveled worldwide to pursue her passion for fine art. “I’ve managed large school budgets, planned and taught classes,” Ms. Smith said. “I’ve also had extensive development and alumni database experience. I think that it was a natural fit for me to continue at Featherstone. I know the organization, the community of artists and the Island.”

Looking ahead, she feels her greatest challenge as Executive Director will be maintaining Featherstone’s financial stability. “That’s the key for every non-profit on the Island,” she said. “I also want to reach out to the next generation of Vineyard artists. I want them to be able to come home and survive here.”

In addition to channeling her energies into the organization’s annual appeal, Ms. Smith also plans to join her mother in planning the anniversary celebration. “We’re looking forward to a year-long party,” she said. “And, as always, we’ll be expanding our offerings to include relevant, viable programs for all ages in every artistic medium possible.”

Asked by both Ms. Smith and the Board of Directors to stay on as the 15th anniversary special events consultant, Ms. Kelly agreed, and is planning over a dozen events that will promote Featherstone’s milestone anniversary at the Featherstone Farm location. “When I first started in the job, I often heard, ‘Where’s Featherstone?'” she says. “I rarely hear that anymore.”

Acknowledging her mother’s accomplishments in dramatically enhancing Featherstone’s breadth of programming, Ms. Smith said: “Our summer programs catalog is now 54 pages. We have a lecture series, a poetry festival, a flea market, Musical Mondays, a free after-school children’s program and great collaborations with other Island organizations like Hospice and the YMCA. Ironically, my mother moved here full-time in March 2003 to retire. She saw an ad in the paper for the executive director position and started working one month later. She’s done an amazing job.”