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Four new directors join the Arts and Culture Coalition of Pierce County

Laura F. Fry is the curator for the Haub Family Collection at the Tacoma Art Museum. Photo courtesy of the Tacoma Art Museum

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Oftentimes, some of a community's greatest assets are organizations that may not get a lot of buzz. Such is the way with the Arts and Culture Coalition of Pierce County (ACCP). You may not have even heard of it, but the Coalition consists of a team of arts and cultural executive directors at organizations throughout Pierce County who fight for, protect and bolster Pierce County's cultural backbone.

Formed in 2009, the ACCP brings together 26 arts, culture and heritage organizations. The ACCP seeks to bolster Pierce County's cultural backbone, and specifically its goals include advocating for arts and culture, sharing and growing available resources and increasing audience support. Tacoma, especially, has become a unique hub for art and culture in Washington state. Today, the area's arts and cultural venues, businesses and organizations generate more than $64 million in Tacoma alone, so the ACCP's efforts also support Tacoma's economy.

Within the past year, four new directors have started with key cultural institutions in town and have spared no time at all in upping the ante on the ACCP's goals.

Laura F. Fry

Haub Collection curator, Tacoma Art Museum

Unless you've been under a rock, you've likely heard about the new Haub Family Collection at Tacoma Art Museum. But amazing exhibitions don't just happen. Amazing exhibitions need amazing curators. Enter Laura F. Fry, who has stepped into one of Tacoma's most visible arts roles and already has been asked to speak as far away as Syracuse, New York. With that visibility, her opportunities to forward the ACCP's goals are especially wide open.

"We're really hoping that this collection brings national prominence to the arts in Tacoma," says Fry. "We saw evidence of this on opening weekend. We had people coming in from out of state to see this collection of Western art, but when they were here, they didn't just come to see the Haub Wing. They came from the Haub Wing, but then they also went to the Museum of Glass, or the Washington State History Museum."

Where can you see Fry in action in the coming year? Look for her at the Symposium hosted by TAM Feb. 7, at the Georgia O'Keefe opening in March and on any third Thursday free nights at TAM. Fry loves to spend time in the gallery spaces, answering questions and getting a feel for how visitors are interacting with the exhibit.

Sarah Ioannides

Music director, Tacoma Symphony Orchestra

Ioannides is in her first season with Tacoma Symphony Orchestra and comes to Tacoma with a stunning list of orchestras she's conducted from all around the world. She's been named by the Los Angeles Times as "one of six female conductors breaking the glass podium" - and is Tacoma's first female conductor. While she's the only director on this list who's not a part of the ACCP as of yet due to the unique structure of the orchestra with both an executive director and a music director, who work in tandem, she and Executive Director Andy Buelow will work together to forward the ACCP's goals.

"Having a presence in as many parts of the community as possible, including downtown Tacoma, but we're hoping to have a wider reach than that. That is a goal for us," says Ioannides. "We're in the planning process to reach as many different parts of the population and all kinds of demographics - providing concerts that are free and low cost to make it financially viable for everyone. On the horizon, we're looking at more educational projects, a wider audience involvement, but also reaching out to more venues."

Where can you see Ioannides in action in the next year? She'll conduct Tacoma Symphony concerts at the Pantages as well as attend the "Music Mixers" afterward, where attendees can chat with her. She'll also conduct the Messiah at Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor Dec. 18, St. Charles Borromeo in Tacoma Dec. 19, Tacoma City Ballet's Nutcracker Dec. 20, 21 and 23 at the Pantages Theater, Peter and the Wolf in January and pops concerts in March. She also loves going out to events so if there's an arts event and she's in town, she's likely to be there.

Wes Wenhardt

Executive director, Foss Waterway Seaport

Wenhardt has been with the Foss Waterway Seaport for the past 13 months and hit the ground running. The Seaport exists to get Tacoma's residents down to the water - a vital part of our city's economy with the Port nearby as well as a huge recreational resource. If you haven't driven by in a while, the Seaport might just blow you away as it's in the process of a massive renovation.

"The two themes I think about to bolster Tacoma as an arts and cultural hub are participation and collaboration," says Wenhardt. "In terms of programs and activities, we've been able to put together a program that brings in 1,500 to 2,000 kids in our marine science and environmental science program. I think that's just the start."

Where can you see Wenhardt in action? He's working to build up education activities designed to connect people with the water. Look for upcoming partnerships between the Seaport and Pierce County Library, a kayaking program, expansion of the existing Pier to Pier and Steam Weekend programs, as well as developing all new activities - and heat in the building, which will allow the Seaport to stay open year round.

John Ross

Executive director, Harbor History Museum

Lifelong Gig Harbor resident, John Ross, started with the Harbor History Museum in July and is the only new director who is farther afoot than downtown Tacoma, but still plans to feed into Tacoma and widen Pierce County's arts synergy.

"I think it's mutually beneficial for Gig Harbor and Tacoma to cross the moat," says Ross. "We're looking to promote as much of the arts and cultural activities that are available in Tacoma, and working with these amazing organizations and directors and individuals to find out ways they might be able to promote our activities at the Harbor History Museum. We're looking to expand. We were pretty much just a historical society, but we're looking to expand our activities and what we offer to be much more of an arts and cultural center."

Their expansion efforts - and where you can see Ross' efforts in action - include hosting concerts to showcase local musicians each Third Thursday, partnering with Tacoma Community College, Gig Harbor Campus, on their Life Long Learning program, which will bring classes or workshops to the museum, as well as hosting festivals at the museum.

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