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Craft center names leader; Director has ties to New England.

Byline: Nancy Sheehan

WORCESTER - One of the city's oldest cultural institutions is under new leadership.

The Worcester Center for Crafts has chosen Barbara Walzer of Santa Fe, N.M., from among about 70 applicants to be its new executive director. She will begin her duties Aug. 4.

Since 2002, Ms. Walzer, born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., has been an independent consultant offering services in marketing, public relations, fundraising and planning to a variety of clients, including a performing arts organization and a fine arts and crafts show. Before that, she was executive director of the Santa Fe Indian Market for two years. Her experience before that was in the New England area, including stints as director of Southside/Broadstreet in Providence, an inner city development project; and as a library consultant and bookseller in Providence and Cambridge.

Ms. Walzer, reached by phone yesterday, said she began to develop a sense of the craft center and Worcester with her first interview in December.

"The whole place is lovely, between the gallery, shop and exhibition space, getting to see the glass blowing studio and all the different things that go on there," she said. "There are a lot of people coming and going. It has a really nice, friendly, warm feeling about it."

Ms. Walzer's selection was unanimous among the search committee and 15-member board of directors, said David J. Firstenberg, board president.

"We are poised for growth and confident that Barbara has the energy, national recognition and dedication to help Worcester Center for Crafts continue to be a catalyst in the world of craft in Central Massachusetts," he said.

Ms. Walzer will take over at a time when the craft center board and staffers are breathing their first sighs of relief after recent years of deep financial turmoil and revolving executive directors. Stepping aside will be Kathy Jellison, after serving a little more than a year as interim director. She was not a candidate for the permanent position.

"I think it speaks so well of the work the board has done and the whole organization has done in the last year," Ms. Jellison said. "They're out of transition and they're out of crisis, which allowed them the opportunity to be able to recruit someone of Barbara's caliber."

Ms. Walzer was offered a compensation package in the low- to mid-90s.

Ms. Jellison, energetic, upbeat and highly regarded in her time as interim director, said the center is on much firmer ground because of the efforts of many, including Mr. Firstenberg, board Vice President Christine Proffitt and board member Richard Traina, former president of Clark University.

"Everybody's done an amazing job with the turnaround," she said. "On my watch we just needed to get out of crisis and we certainly did that, but everybody did it. No one person ever makes that happen. People were receptive to change. There's not a person on the board, all 15 of them, that doesn't really love this place. With David coming on board, with Christine being as remarkable as she is, and Dick Traina, I look around at all the people who have said `What can I do to help?' and everybody did. All of them did what they needed to do for the last year."

Much remains to be done, but Ms. Walzer appreciates the struggle that has gone before. "I'm lucky to step in just when everybody's done all the hard work," she said.

Going beyond the Craft Center to the city that surrounds it, Ms. Walzer said she can see parallels between Worcester and Providence, where she had lived for 17 years.

"I think there are similarities, having lived in Providence for a long time and having watched that city slowly blossom," she said. "I think Worcester has so many things in place that are like that, and in some cases stronger."
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 15, 2008
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