After a six-month national search, the Loft literary center in Minneapolis has found its next executive director in its own neighborhood. Arleta Little has been named executive director of the 47-year-old literary organization, which is housed in the Open Book building complex dedicated to the literary arts on the edge of downtown Minneapolis. Little, who was described in a release as a “local and national champion for increasing equity and justice in philanthropy, arts” previously served at the McKnight Foundation – whose offices are located a few blocks away from Open Book -- as an arts & culture program officer and director of artist fellowships.

“The Loft is committed to doing the deep work of becoming an antiracist organization and leader in Minnesota and the country,” noted Loft board chair Mike Meyer, “Arleta is the strong and compassionate leader to get us there. Her strategic vision, which includes strengthening our programming and connecting with new communities, is crucial to acting on that promise.”

“I’m very much a collaborative leader,” Little told PW.”I intend to get into the community and have conversations there about what the next chapter for the Loft will look like. Getting out of the building, centering the community will be a big priority.”

Little replaces Britt Udesen, who left the Loft in May after six years to move back to Idaho and serve as the first executive director of City of Good, a nonprofit founded in 2020 to address food insecurity in Boise. Little will assume her responsibilities full-time in March 2022; in the meantime, managing director Beth Schoeppler will continue to serve as interim director on a part-time basis and Little will work on specific strategic projects with the 14 Loft staff members. Her last day at McKnight is this Friday.

For the past eight years, according to the release, Little has directed the McKnight Artist Fellowships, a $3 million program providing support for Minnesota artists “and culture bearers” across 15 creative disciplines. During her tenure there, she grew and diversified McKnight’s fellowships program; built a strong community with McKnight’s fellowships program partners, including the Loft; advanced racial equity within McKnight’s arts team and organization-wide as well as in coalition with philanthropic and arts partners; and managed relationships and made funding recommendations each year for $9 million in grants to nearly 200 organizations.

Previously, Little served as the executive director of the Givens Foundation for African American Literature in Minneapolis and also worked for more than 15 years as an organizational development consultant providing strategic planning, program evaluation and grant writing services to Minnesota organizations.

A poet and a writer, Little's essay, "Life and Death in the North Star State," recently was published in Water-Stone Review and nominated for a 2022 Pushcart Prize. Her work is included in several recent compilations: We Are Meant to Rise: Voices for Justice from Minneapolis to the World; This Was 2020: Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year; and Blues Vision: African American Writing From Minnesota.

“Artists are my tribe,” Little noted while explaining to PW why she applied for the Loft position, “I am a practicing artist and a writer of color; what this opportunity at the Loft does is allow me to bring my service skills and my life skills and merge them with my passion for the arts.”