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Arts & Culture

The Ucross Foundation is set to change leadership this spring

The Ucross Foundation will be led by a new face this spring as president and executive director Sharon Dynak is stepping down from her position in April after 15 years at the helm and over 25 with the organization.

This also comes as Ucross has recently been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. And while there have been many achievements that have been accomplished under Dynak’s tenure, building new connections ranks highly for her.

“I really think that probably the relationships, the national relationships, that we’ve created have been—that’s been the most significant thing that I’ve brought to the table I think,” she said. “The key change [during her time with Ucross] was the bringing in and nurturing partnerships with Ucross throughout the country with other organizations that supported artists and writers in different ways, and we found points of intersection.”

Dynak has helped to establish partnerships with many notable arts and cultural organizations nationwide. These include the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction, the Whiting Foundation, the Ford Family Foundation, the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, the Alley Theatre, UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, the Yale School of Drama and the Yale School of Music, the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University, Cave Canem, and The Blank Theatre.

There have been some changes that have taken place over the years at Ucross, such as increasing the space and opportunities for more resident fellows at one time, and using modern technologies to review application materials, which was once done using slide trays of artist’s works. But there have also been aspects that have remained relatively unchanged over this period as well.

“A lot of what we do remains consistent, we [give residents] uninterrupted time, this beautiful place to work, the amazing food, the staff support, and just the overall respect and validation of what artists do—that continues,” Dynak said. “When I came, I think we were up to eight artists, but then I think one of the most exciting times for me was when the two composer studios were built, and we didn’t have composer spaces before then.”

Dynak’s successor is William Belcher, who has been involved with the Ucross Foundation since late 2017.

“It’s been a really wonderful time seeing the program grow and working with Sharon, working with the staff here,” Belcher said. “I think one of the biggest benefits here is there’s sort of a sense of continuity and really having several months where we overlap and can talk and walk through a transition.”

Belcher hopes to continue the work that the Foundation has become known for.

“I think preserving the Ucross experience and what that means is the top priority,” he said. “I think I want to continue to work on what we’ve done at championing our artisan community and building the alumni community, strengthening it across the country, and I want to make sure we remain a relevant and meaningful resource for artists.”

Belcher plans on splitting his time as president approximately 50/50 between Ucross and his home in upstate New York while also traveling around the country to visit with alumni and donors.

The change in Ucross’s leadership comes as it has received grants that will help grow its artistic programs and help fund its operations.

In Jan., Ucross was the recipient of a $30,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support its residency program and support underserved artists, including Native American visual artists and writers. Shortly thereafter, the Foundation received a $100,000 grant, also from the NEA, as part of American Rescue Plan relief funds to aid in supporting the residency program, help with staff salaries, and fund artist stipends.

Ucross has also been selected to receive a $47,000 Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts award. This will aid in a three-year project that brings together curators from art institutions that showcase Native American art. A Native American fellowship was begun at Ucross in 2017 with the first fellows arriving the following year.

“I think that’s another thing that’s been really significant for Ucross, and I’m thrilled it’s grown,” Dynak said. “We started with visual artists, and we branched out already to include writers [and] someday there’ll be music.”

Dynak doesn’t have any defined plans on what comes next after she formally retires but is focused on assisting in an advisory role so that Belcher’s transition is as seamless as possible.

“I really feel like I’ve been carrying a torch that many others had before me, and it’s always a group effort at Ucross,” she said.

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