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Championing arts in the community

Resourceful might be one of the best ways to describe Janice Gouldthorpe, the executive director of the Genesee Center for the Arts & Education.

She came to her position in 2005 with 24 years in the corporate sector as an engineer and manager at Eastman Kodak Co., gaining increasing levels of responsibilities and skills.

Her experience there has helped her in her role at the helm of the center.

Gouldthorpe began with a budget of some $300,000 and a staff of seven, which have grown to a budget of $500,000 and a staff of 11.

The Genesee Center for the Arts & Education originated in a renovated firehouse on Genesee Street 48 years ago. It now is located on Monroe Avenue. Its mission is to provide arts services and education to the community, with an emphasis on underserved youth. It offers a variety of art programs including photography, printing and pottery classes with galleries that display artists’ work.

Gouldthorpe, taking up stewardship of donor relations when she arrived at the organization, increased annual giving by 350 percent and grew its endowment from zero to $2 million in eight years.

She rallied support and drew on community connections for several fundraising campaigns totaling $350,000 for capital improvements to the 110-year-old Genesee Street building that housed the center before its move to Monroe Avenue in the early 1970s.

And 25 grant applications she has filed net the center an additional $65,000 in annual funding.

“I decided in my mid-40s to step into a more creative, positive environment and thought my skills in business could be transferable to the arts sector,” says Gouldthorpe, 57.

Start in Michigan
Gouldthorpe grew up in Flint, Mich., with her parents Beverly and Daniel Walker and her brothers, John and Robert. Her father worked his entire career as a tool and die maker for General Motors Corp.

She always had an appreciation for the arts and she was a ballet dancer from the age of 4 until she was 15, Gouldthorpe says. She was a member of the Flint Ballet Theater and taught dance for a studio there.

“It is this love of arts, this combination of skill and experience and a desire to do something positive, that led me to this position,” she says.

Gouldthorpe saw differences between running a division in a large company and heading a smaller non-profit organization, but often she found there were more similarities.

Her roles at Kodak, where she worked from 1980 to 2004, included being a team leader for the $250 million film manufacturing business and quality and information technology manager for the $300 million chemicals manufacturing business.

“In a large corporation you have a lot of support services you don’t have in a smaller organization—IT, human resources. You have to learn which volunteers you can go to for support,” Gouldthorpe says.

“This is running a small business with 11 employees. It just so happens to be a non-profit.”

She has learned more than she expected during her 10 years at the center.

Center programs
Gouldthorpe has come to see how art can do more than enrich people’s lives, she says.

“Art can be a tool. We have many models, engaging students in their out-of-school time in positive activities,” Gouldthorpe says, such as a middle school photography class the center holds for city students.

Statistics the center tracks show that more than 85 percent of the students in its programs go on to complete high school.

That compares favorably with the city average, which is below 50 percent.

“Middle school is a very challenging period. In addition to teaching photography it gives them a voice, and matches them with a caring adult,” Gould-thorpe says. “Our enrichment programs provide an outlet. We can’t claim we’re the only reason our students have a higher percentage graduation rate, but we’re certain we make an impact.”

Adults benefit from the center as well through its art galleries, community darkroom and printing and book arts center.

“Some adults come here to explore second careers,” Gouldthorpe says.

Marsha King, a registered nurse for 34 years in Rochester, did not know that would be the case for her when she bought a gift certificate to the center for her daughter 19 years ago.

“I started as an introductory student in a pottery class. I had no concept of being an artist,” King says. “The center offered me an opportunity by way of the class to try something I never tried before.”

King continued taking classes and after five years she accepted an offer at the center to teach. She found she was good at pottery.

As time progressed, and circumstances changed in her life, King decided to step back from full-time nursing and start a career in art.

Today she is the sole proprietor of Purple Iris Pottery and an instructor at the center. King says Gouldthorpe has helped the center grow tremendously.

“I’ve known Janice since she came. Coming from an industrialized environment to an arts environment had to be an adjustment,” King says. “I’ve seen her evolve. She has been a benefit to the center, and I think she has helped the organization to have more security because it has more diverse offerings now.”

Jennifer Perena agrees. She was a member of the center’s board of directors when Gouldthorpe was hired.

“We were in crisis mode before Janice came. The board was running the center and none of us understood the nuances of running a non-profit,” Perena says. “Janice made a positive impact by saving money, streamlining effectiveness and presenting new ideas.”

Gouldthorpe and Perena worked together over the years, especially on fund-raisers for capital improvements.

“That 100-year-old firehouse has undergone a number of reconstruction projects, precipitated by weather events,” Perena says. “Repairs on the roof, water running down the walls, a flood in the basement from snow melt. Janice always had a clear vision for how to get things done.

“When we lost our grant because the (National Endowment for the Arts and Education) changed its guidelines, she came up with a way to raise money for a lift so we could be handicapped accessible.”

Being creative in finding solutions is the way Gouldthorpe has made improvements with so few resources, her peers say. She would like to extend that success to the larger community but finds that to be a challenge.

“The arts can be a tool and the arts community has much to offer, but business, government and community leaders don’t always consider including the arts as part of the process of coming up with solutions to some of these very tough issues,” Gouldthorpe says.

She cites the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, the Facing Race, Embracing Equity and Rochester-Monroe County Anti-Poverty Initiative as a few efforts in which she would like to be included in conversations.

She asked to be on the education sub-committee of the Rochester-Monroe County Anti-Poverty Initiative but was not selected.

“If we don’t think about all of our resources, we won’t be as successful as we can be,” Gouldthorpe says. “We have youth programs. We know we’re doing good work, like with our middle school photography class. That’s 30 success stories each year. But we could be doing so much more.”

To do more, the center needs more funding, she says. The center obtains 35 percent of its funding from contributed revenue. The current endowment, managed by the Rochester Area Community Foundation, is $3.5 million. The center also gets $3,000 of the $1.3 million Monroe County has allocated for its arts budget—an amount that has not increased in 12 years, Gouldthorpe points out.

“Erie County, which is comparable in size, receives $3.8 million, three times as much. I look at the arts as an investment just like roads and health care. We need to make this investment in our community,” she says.

The Genesee Center for Arts & Education has been a part of the Rochester community for 45 years. It has a history of providing several services and there have been civic agencies borne out of the center, such as the Gay Alliance of Genesee Valley.

Looking forward to the future, the organization is in the midst of a strategic planning and rebranding initiative expected to result in a new name in 2016.

“We want to re-energize the mission with a strong focus on the arts,” Gouldthorpe says.

Off the job
Gouldthorpe lives in Fairport with her husband, Brad, who heads a business that works with inventors and companies to commercialize new products and discover growth opportunities for existing products. The couple has two adult sons.

In her free time she enjoys riding her bike, taking tai chi and spending time with friends.

“We are continuing to look forward to a bright future for Rochester,” she says. “We are doing our part to make our arts programs and services relevant and exciting, presenting our students and visitors with world class art experiences.”

Janice Gouldthorpe
Title: Executive Director, Genesee Center for the Arts & Education
Age: 57
Education: B.S. in chemical engineering, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1980
Residence: Fairport
Family: Husband, Brad; sons, Dylan, 24 and Wyatt, 22
Interests: Riding her bike, taking tai chi and spending time with friends
Quote: “If we don’t think about all of our resources, we won’t be as successful as we can be. Art can be a tool.”

10/9/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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