When Collinsworth started at the Wyoming Fine Arts Center, it seemed like a dream job. “It was a great opportunity to combine my entrepreneurial skills with my love of arts and music,” she says. “You can never be in a bad mood when you have live music, and here there was live music every day!”
That was at the end of February. Within three weeks, the global pandemic had closed the Center as the country went into lockdown. Since then, says Collinsworth, “All I’ve done is manage the Arts Center in pandemic mode. I have crisis management skills, but I didn’t think I’d have to use them right away.” With the flexibility that comes from starting up new businesses, she and the staff of WFAC immediately began adapting to the situation.
“I was super proud of the staff, parents, and students,” she says. “We pivoted to remote lessons almost instantly.” In addition, they developed safety protocols to allow kids to attend summer camps, protocols that were adopted by other arts groups, and that are still in effect as students return to the Center. All classes are limited to ten people or fewer and are held outside if possible; masks are mandatory, as are temperature checks for anyone entering the building; and frequent hand sanitizing is a must. Only half of the studios are in use, and the entire building is cleaned each day. In a creative solution, the staff constructed six-foot circles out of pool noodles to help children visualize social distancing. As of now, over half the teachers have returned to their studios.
“It’s starting to be fun again,” Collinsworth says. “We’re getting as close to normal as we can.”
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic in the first months of her tenure, Collinsworth has her eye on the future growth and expansion of the WFAC. “While this is a twenty-five-year-old organization,” she says, “there’s still a lot to be done here. We’re looking at making the building ADA accessible,” as well as adding a variety of programming. “We have musical theater; we want to add drama and improv, more adult classes, choral classes…We have a world of opportunity in front of us.”
Opportunity is something Julie Collinsworth understands. With an MBA in International Business and Marketing from UC, she started the personal concierge service My Girl Friday in 27 markets before franchising it. Since then she has launched over a dozen other concepts to market, served as adjunct faculty at the UC College of Business, worked as a consultant, and served on several non-profit boards before coming to WFAC. She hopes to use her business acumen to help the Fine Art Center grow and provide art experiences to as many people as possible. “I’m working hard to keep the Center relevant to the community.”
Art and music have always been part of Collinsworth’s life. Her father and brother are professional musicians, and she herself nearly majored in art history before settling on business. The combination makes her a natural fit at WFAC. “I love the mission,” she says. “We live in a great city that has done really well working together, making the arts available to the public.” She hopes to integrate the Center more fully into that scene through collaboration with other organizations. Already in recent weeks the Center has played host to the Know Theatre, Arts Connect, Reels on Wheels, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and others. “This is really a year of collaboration for us.”
To that end, she plans to take advantage of the strengths of the Wyoming Fine Arts Center. “It has a very large reach,” she says. “We’re making an impact not just in Wyoming, but all around the region.” And if the pandemic has posed obstacles that no one expected, Julie Collinsworth is not worried.
“We’re celebrating twenty-five years of creativity this year,” she says with a laugh. “We’ll just stay creative.”