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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Lesley Wright reflects on College-community relations

By Shanna Nichols & Christopher Squier

Lesley Wright, Director of the Faulconer Gallery since 1999, has not just helped to bring a new course to the Art Department. Through her standing in many organizations throughout Grinnell, she has also fostered much of the relationship between the community and the College.

“From the very beginning, my charge from the College was that I was to use Faulconer Gallery to increase the reputation of Grinnell College as well as to foster fine arts exhibitions,” she said. “We’ve always looked off-campus as well as on-campus with this space and what we do.”

Previously, Wright was the president of the Grinnell Area Arts Council. She now sits on the advisory committee to the Executive Director, and she is going to be the committee Chair for RAGBRAI this summer. Her job with the Faulconer Gallery largely requires that she act as a liaison to a myriad of groups, both on and off campus.

“I’ve always felt really strongly that if you’re going to live in a place, you should be involved in that place. I do a lot in the community, but I also find that the more visible I am in the community, the better it is for Faulconer Gallery, because then I’m sort of the face of the gallery, although now that we have Tilly [Woodward, Curator of Academic and Public Outreach for Faulconer Gallery] as well,” Wright said. “Between the two of us, lots of people know who we are and what Faulconer Gallery is.”

In the Grinnell community, Wright is the Vice Chair of the Grinnell Tourism Committee, which devises strategies to bring revenue to the town.
“[We are] charged by the city with finding ways to spend the hotel-motel tax dollars. It’s a way to generate more tourist revenue for the city. I’ve been doing that for years, and we’ve seen a real increase in those revenues,” she said.

Wright also represents the Tourism Committee to the Chamber of Commerce, which involves sitting on the Chamber Board and working towards a positive business climate for Grinnell.

“We have a very active new Chamber Director named Angela Harrington who’s really getting things going in town. She has lots of ideas and she’s really changed a lot of things,” Wright said. “It’s the most active I’ve ever seen our Chamber in the 12 years I’ve lived here, which is very exciting.”
Over the past couple of years, Wright has witnessed big changes both for the town and for the College.

“Certainly through the efforts of what we’re doing here at the Faulconer Gallery, through Campus Big Brothers Big Sisters, through the community meal, my sense is there’s a much more positive feeling about the College in the community than there used to be,” she said.

“One thing that’s very exciting is how visible President [Raynard] Kington is in the community. That’s a real change for the town, to see him at so many things and people are really taking note of that and see it as a very positive thing,” Wright said. “[The College] is not seen so much as this little island in Grinnell.”

Wright emphasized that organizations in town and on campus are working in conjunction to foster a lasting relationship.

“There’s been a slight change in how the [College’s] Office of Community Enhancement interacts with the community in that they’re not just looking for ways that the College can give money but also the ways that people on campus can be connected to opportunities and thus use intellectual capital as well as financial capital to do things with the community,” she said.

There are also programs to get individual students involved in the community in which they are spending their college years.

“There’s a new initiative where they’re placing apprentices in various agencies in town—the Chamber of Commerce, the Arts Council, various offices that have to do more with the community than campus,” Wright said. “These students are there for a full year and they’re like an employee. They have to come to work and they have a big say in what happens and they’re very intricately involved. It’s a way to hope that people will learn that they can have a real impact on the community, even as a 21-year-old.”

Wright praised the spirit of the town and all that she has observed over her years working at the Faulconer Gallery.

“I think one of the amazing things about Grinnell is how much it’s been able to do over the past five years, even right through the recession. Despite the terrible drop we had in ’98, we still have finished a library and a public safety building and a new swimming pool,” she said. “All that money came right out of this community and it kept going and it didn’t get derailed. It means this is a pretty healthy town and things are continuing to move forward.”

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