Francine Esther Kelly died on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, at her daughter’s home in Culver City, Calif. Francine was born on Sept. 30, 1939, and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. She graduated from Walnut Hills High School in 1957. She spent time as a youth in the Young Churchmen at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, where her grandfather, Edmund Oxley, was the rector. She matriculated to Oberlin College and graduated with a degree in history and international government in 1961. Francine married, began teaching history, social studies, and economics to middle and high schoolers, and became the mother of four daughters.
Francine lived in Cincinnati, Ohio; Iowa City, Iowa; Ankara, Turkey; Basel, Switzerland; and Lynbrook, Long Island, before settling in Indianapolis, Ind., in 1972. She became a member of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority in the Cincinnati Chapter in 1973.
Francine credited the strong influence of her mother (a physician, artist, and pianist/organist), her exposure to the arts at Oberlin, and her extensive worldwide travel in making her a champion of and for the arts. Francine always encouraged artists and promoted the arts. She was an art collector and art dealer, but most important an arts supporter. Francine was a major civic volunteer in Indianapolis — she served as a docent at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, served on the boards of the Indianapolis Art Center, Young Audiences, and Very Special Arts. She was a member of the Indianapolis Chapter of Links, the Coalition of 100 Black Women, and Jack & Jill.
Francine served as the director of programs at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (the world’s largest children’s museum) from 1986 to 2000. She created thousands of innovative programs for children of all ages, and managed a staff of more than 20 programmers. She became the director of community initiatives in 2000, with a groundbreaking role of using the Children’s Museum’s influence to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood, creating partnerships with Lilly Endowment, the Community Development Council, Neighborhood Resource Centers, and Habitat for Humanity. She retired from the museum in February of 2003.
Francine first came to Martha’s Vineyard in 1951. She summered on the Island ever after. Francine loved the Island, and knew that this was where she would retire. Francine fulfilled her dream, “retiring” to the Island in March 2003. On April 1, 2003, she was named the executive director of Featherstone Center for the Arts (the first paid executive director). Francine increased the number of gallery shows as well the class offerings, and initiated collaborations with numerous organizations including Polly Hill, the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, and the Yard. She was particularly proud of Featherstone’s five-year partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, where each March, Featherstone showcased high school art for the entire month, providing these students the opportunity of presenting their artwork in a professional setting, preparing their portfolios for college, and readying them for future art experiences. Mentoring the next generation of artists was one of Francine’s strongest passions. Francine truly fulfilled Featherstone’s mission of a year-round community center for the arts, creating a welcoming and inspiring environment for all and nurturing personal relationships with Island artists. Known for never saying “no” and dubbed the “Queen of Collaboration,” Francine retired as Featherstone’s executive director on Labor Day 2010. As director emerita, she consulted for Featherstone’s 15th anniversary celebration in 2011, and the 20th anniversary in 2016. She continued to be present at all Featherstone special events and opening receptions, and was a catalyst for fundraising for Featherstone’s current capital campaign. The Martha’s Vineyard Museum honored Francine with the Martha’s Vineyard Medal in 2011. Francine and her daughter, Ann Smith, were the recipients of the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard’s Creative Living Award in 2015. And just this past summer at Featherstone’s Annual Gala, Featherstone celebrated Francine’s many accomplishments in conjunction with Featherstone’s 20th anniversary.
Francine served as the Oak Bluffs appointee to the MVTV Board and the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council. She was a past board member of the Oak Bluffs Association, and a proud participant of the Savor the Moment Della Hardman Day Committee. She often served as a judge at the All-Island Art Show. Francine was instrumental in drafting the Arts Section of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Island Plan. Francine enjoyed being in the pool at the YMCA for water aerobics and catching up with her cronies. She loved a good meal, and was often seen frequenting her favorite dining establishments on the Vineyard. Most of all, Francine was extremely proud of her family, and loved to celebrate their achievements and successes.
Francine was preceded in death by her parents, Frances Jack Kelly and Dr. Lucy O. Oxley. She is survived by her four daughters: Ann Smith (William Green), Janis Smith- Gomez (Todd Gomez), Gwen Smith (Haim Steinbach), and Jill Moniz; five grandchildren: Anna Gomez, River Smith Steinbach, Jonathan Moniz, Jackson Moniz, and Julian Moniz; her only niece: Kimberly Christmas Goins (Rick Goins); her great-nieces: Kristin Goins and Kelsi Goins; her aunt Elizabeth Oxley Hatcher; and a host of cousins. Her presence will be missed by so many — extended family, friends, and colleagues. Donations in her memory may be made to Featherstone Center for the Arts at featherstoneart.org or by mail: P.O. Box 1145, Oak Bluffs, MA 02557.
A celebration of Francine’s life will take place at Featherstone this summer.