Hardin leads Arts Council in ‘serious business’

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Nora-Hardin-_Second-Floor-StudiosNora Hardin, the new executive director of the Pikes Peak Arts Council, moved last month into the top spot of the organization that’s been supporting the local arts since 1968.

Prior to becoming executive director, Hardin served as board vice president. She also held a number of diverse positions in manufacturing, publishing, film and video production and marketing in her native Oklahoma.

She was born and raised in Tulsa, where she lived until moving to Colorado Springs in 2007. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Tulsa, where she studied communication — broadcast journalism with a minor in art.


How has your career prepared you for your current job?

The diversity of my background and having worked in all these different areas has prepared me for this position. I love jobs where you’re 24/7 and you just have to wear every hat. I love that. When you try new things, you really become a more nimble problem-solver, you have more of a reservoir of information to pull from. I feel like what’s prepared me for this is I have a very strong sense of business and process organization, strategic thinking, and I’m also a working artist. I get that world as well.

In the 1980s, when I learned platinum printing, I did pretty well with some local shows and galleries. As naïve as I was about the actual selling of art, I began thinking I need to branch out into other states, and I just love Santa Fe. I had heard several horror stories about galleries that weren’t so welcoming. As luck would have it, I walked into a gallery at Canyon Road in Santa Fe and met this wonderful man named John Stevenson, who owned a gallery called Platinum Plus with his partner. They were the most gracious, welcoming arts mentors I could ask for. They loved my work, they hung my work and it sold well for me, for three to four years. I really didn’t know what I was doing — it was just kind of dumb luck. Turns out it is about having a relationship and finding someone whose vision is the same as yours.


What are some of the challenges the PPAC faces?

Our biggest challenge is to spend the quality time we need to focus on strategic planning right now. We have been a fully volunteer board. Jay Miller, our board president, has been a fantastic leader up to this point. On the board, which I was on for three years, we all realized to turn a corner and to be sure we thrive as a nonprofit arts organization here, that we’re relevant, that we needed to take a step in the direction of hiring an executive director. I think one of the challenges we have is to feel comfortable in that new leadership dynamic.

We do have a board retreat coming up in January. We’ll be focused on some strategic planning. We have some bold decisions we need to make about who we are, the work that we want to do, and how the structure of our organization can help that come to be.


What are your goals for the organization for next year?

The goals are very much about collaborating with other arts organizations. It’s an exciting time to be in the arts community here with the new fine arts center leadership. We’ve recently been meeting with COPPeR [Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region]. Both organizations recognize that we have very unique missions in the community. We want to be sure we articulate those unique missions — that we support each other and help each other, but do our own thing at the same time.

They just selected Nechie Hall as the interim CEO of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and we’ve got Andrew Vick coming in to take Christina McGrath’s spot at COPPeR. We’ve got new blood. This position is brand-new. John Khoury over at Cottonwood [Cottonwood Center for the Arts] is relatively new to the community. It’s a great opportunity to convene these arts leaders. I would like the Pikes Peak Arts Council to be very instrumental in convening these arts leaders so that we know what we’re all doing.


What is the favorite part of your role?

Right now, it’s just full of opportunity. The sky’s the limit in terms of refreshing our brand and who we are. We don’t ever want to forget all the great work that’s been done up to this point. We’re in a great position. We’ve always run a solid, fiscally responsible organization, but it can be so much more. With all the other exciting things going on in the community, with the City for Champions efforts, it’s very exciting. I see our role as being grassroots support of the arts.


What is the role of the arts in the business community?

It’s hard to separate the arts from business. Art is business. People forget it’s not just about a creative process. We have many fabulous galleries here representing artists from here and everywhere. Artists need to make a living and have health insurance and resources and a community net around them.

It’s hard to separate the arts from the business community. Art is powerful. Art creates really special places. It creates inspiration. We need that in every aspect of our lives, I think. Business can help, business can support, business can encourage employees to engage in art.

Art is business. The creative process is serious business. Thinking big really means supporting small. Any arts organization, and artists themselves here, would be considered small businesses.

When I talk about art, I do mean artists and art in the broadest sense of the word; I don’t restrict it to just performers or visual artists.

If we want a vibrant arts and culture community here, we have got to attract artists. We have got to make this place a haven for artists.