The Loft literary arts center, the country’s largest and one of the oldest, isn’t just celebrating its 40th anniversary this year: it’s also launching a search for a new executive director to replace current head Jocelyn Hale, who will be stepping down in August after leading the Minneapolis literary nonprofit since 2007. The Loft’s 22-member board will initiate a national search on January 30, so that a new leader will be in place by August, which also is the end of its fiscal year. The Loft is scheduled to hold a celebration at the Open Book literary center in downtown Minneapolis to mark its founding on August 22; the new executive director will be officially introduced to the literary world there.
In a release, Loft board chair John Schenk stated, “[Hale’s] energy and passion for the Loft is contagious. She began her tenure as the economy was collapsing and managed to keep the Loft moving forward, including launching online learning, completing an endowment drive, expanding class offerings and outreach programs, and taking a leadership role in Open Book's management and sustainability. ”
Hale, 51, who informed the board a few weeks ago of her decision to step down, intends to, she says, “spend more time with my books, reflect, and then plot my future.” She also wants to take a break from fundraising, which is about 50% of her work load. The decision to launch an immediate national search was instigated by the organization’s desire to interview qualified candidates who might be in Minneapolis this spring for the Association of Writing Program’s annual conference, which will take place at the Minneapolis Convention Center April 8-12.
“We have a great opportunity to interview candidates, with AWP in town, and our 40th anniversary is this summer. We’re marking the past, but it’s a wonderful time also to look forward to the future, with a new leader,” said Hale, who was a Loft board member for five years before being named executive director. Hale also noted the strength of the 16-member staff, many of whom have been at The Loft for years. “The current staff is outstanding and will be able to train the new person really well,” she said.
The Loft was launched in a room above Marly Rusoff’s bookstore, Rusoff & Co Book Dealers near the University of Minnesota’s campus. After organizing a series of readings and workshops there for about a year, Rusoff, who has since moved to New York City, and is a well-known literary agent, incorporated the Loft as an arts nonprofit in 1975. Since then, the Loft has sponsored readings, workshops, and classes for writers, both adult and children, at every stage to hone their craft. A mentor series was launched in 1980, which matches established national writers with emerging local voices, and the first of many writers residencies was launched in 1985. Fifteen years ago, the Loft partnered with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio to launch Talking Volumes, a regional book club which brings national and international authors to the Twin Cities to discuss their work in depth in newspaper interviews and on MPR in front of a studio audience at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.
Located in Open Book since 2000, together with Milkweed Editions and The Minnesota Center for the Book Arts, the Loft currently has a $2 million annual budget, much of it provided by foundation support, as well as the state’s Legacy Fund. The organization, which has 1,650 contributing members, serves about 4,000 people annually who attend its classes and workshops, along with numerous others who attend any of the 50-60 events sponsored by the Loft each year.
When asked whether there might be a change in direction with the upcoming transition in leadership, Chris Jones, Loft communications director, responded that the Loft is moving forward “full steam ahead,” with no plans on deviating from its current strategic planning.
“It’s a good time for someone to jump into a new role,” Jones said.