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Hetzler brings new perspective to Arts Council

Carol Hetzler

Carol Hetzler

ALBANY -- As Carol Hetzler shares tidbits about her personal history, she's the quintessential professional businesswoman, answering questions with the matter-of-fact air of one who weighs each response before speaking.

It's when the new executive director of the Albany Area Arts Council talks about plans for the nonprofit that her true personality shines through. Listening to her speak passionately and animatedly about ideas for the Arts Council offers insight into why the council's board of trustees was so eager to bring Hetzler on board.

As trustees Secretary Rachelle Bitterman put it, "We already see that Carol's going to be a tremendous asset."

When Hetzler moved into the position vacated by Deborah Loehr on Aug. 15, she brought a different perspective to the nonprofit entity that serves as the umbrella organization for a number of area arts agencies.

"My interest in the arts has more to do with appreciation than any actual artistic talent," Hetzler said. "I have spent the three months I've been here looking at things from a business perspective, at issues such as reducing our overhead, increasing revenue and strengthening our brand.

"Frankly, I think the best way to approach this position is from a business perspective."

Hetzler is, at the present time, able to attack the issues that confront the Arts Council on a limited basis because she is pretty much a one-woman show. She has a part-time assistant, and volunteers "gallery-sit" occasionally so that she can attend important meetings.

"One of the things I believe is important is for the community to know they can depend on us," she said. "And that includes having the doors open when we say they're going to be open. If we say we're going to have exhibits on display from 9 to 4, then we have an obligation to do so.

"Unfortunately, that means I have to be here at times when I could better serve the council by meeting with individuals and corporate representatives who are potential patrons."

Hetzler, whose husband, John, is general manager of The Albany Herald, came to Albany from a diverse background, one that includes stays over a large part of the country. She grew up in Ohio, received her undergraduate degree in psychology in Indiana and her master's degree in school psychology in Texas. She was a school psychologist for a period but spent most of her professional life in sales.

In the nonprofit arena, she's been a fundraiser for the United Way and the American Heart Association, and she's volunteerd for a number of civic organizations.

"I actually enjoy fundraising," Hetzler said. "It's fulfilling to know that this is a way I can make a difference in the community. Certainly raising funds in this economy is a challenge, but that's part of what's thrilling about this position."

Bitterman notes that Hetzler's approach is exactly what the board was looking for when its members interviewed her as a candidate.

"She's picking up where Deborah (Loehr) got us to, and she's taking it to the next level," Bitterman said. "Deborah got us back to where we were scheduling exhibits and opening our doors regularly. Now Carol is looking at ways to increase our visibility and our support in the community."

While Hetzler has no shortage of ideas she's formulating into a plan of attack, she said there's no need for a major overhaul at the Arts Council.

"The most logical thing to do is strengthen what we have," she said. "That's hosting these monthly exhibits and showcasing our regional art show, which is a premiere event.

"We can play to our strengths by creating collaborative opportunities within the community. My philosophy is to make those opportunities a win-win. And if we're going to grow and establish relationships, we have to overdeliver. It's even better if our events also benefit the community."

In her three-month tenure Hetzler has begun to find out more about the arts organizations that fall under the Arts Council's umbrella: The Albany Museum of Art, Theatre Albany, the Albany Symphony Orchestra, Thronateeska Heritage Center, the Civil Rights Institute, the Albany Chorale and the Georgia Artist's Guild of Albany.

"I'm amazed at the job each of the directors of these organizations does," she said. "We're establishing relationships, finding ways that we can all work together."

Asked for a peek at the items on her Arts Council wish list, Hetzler quickly runs through a series of wants and needs:

-- Needed repairs and improvements of the historic Carnegie Library that houses the counsel;

-- Increase in membership;

-- Increase in corporate sponsorships;

-- Building a larger volunteer base;

-- More exhibits and activities geared toward children;

-- Strengthening the council's educational element;

-- Improving the organization's website and Facebook page.

"One of the most exciting things about this position is that the bones of this organization are in place, and they're very good bones," Hetzler said. "What we need to do now is massage those bones so that we're in a position to take the Arts Council to the next level. I'm open to suggestions; my door is always open.

"There's a character in this historic building, and there's a great deal of excitement for the arts in the community. A community this size should be proud of the artistic opportunities available. I've lived in smaller communities and even larger metro areas that don't have what we have here. I'm excited about the possibilities."