Naples artistic executive director Aimee Schlehr resigned effective August 7 in what her chairman of the board called a setback “trifecta” for the arts education and exhibition center this year.
Among its woes, the organization had already lost its spring fundraiser and an adult class session due to the coronavirus shutdown. The organization had to put longtime artistic director Jack O’Brien on leave, and two employees also left.
“I think we have the winning trifecta,” said Ricki Baker, Naples Art board chairman. “First it was COVID-19, then, just to make sure we couldn’t adjust to the demands of not having live classes and exhibits, the air conditioning died a permanent death.
“Then because the building was hot and humid, we got a touch of mold,” she said. “And then Aimée quit.”
Schlehr, who led the organization for 11 years, submitted his two-week notice at the end of July.
“It was just a combination of things,” Schlehr said. “Each board has its own challenges and benefits, but I felt like this board was looking for a different kind of leadership. So I thought it was time for me to move on.”
Schlehr said there had also been some family changes – good ones, with one daughter leaving for college and another returning to the area with her family – that she wanted to devote her attention to.
She said she felt her 11 years with the organization had been productive for her and for her. Among Schlehr’s accomplishments were the development of free summer arts programs for children in schools and specialized arts for organizations such as The Lighthouse for the Blind. During her tenure, the organization also created its fall fundraiser “Scene to be Seen”, featuring quirky and unusual fashions in a parade.
“We have had a lot of success,” she said. Most important for Schlehr, however, was to repair what she saw as strained relations between the center and the artists in her founding of the Naples Art Association.
“We didn’t have a good relationship with the local artists. Rebuilding is one of my biggest accomplishments. It’s something I’m really proud of.”
Schlehr, who trained in accounting, said she had come to appreciate art as a tool for learning and therapy, and said she would like to tackle something involving this at l ‘future: “I really appreciate and understand now the essential role of the arts in education. “
Naples Art is not looking for a new director just yet, Baker said. With some “fabulous” scouts and advice from the community, the board found an interim executive director in arts attorney Merlin Lickhalter.
“We feel very confident with Merlin so we are in no rush to start a research process. We are working in stages, one at a time,” said Baker.
Lickhalter was heavily involved in the local arts. Retired from 35 years in architectural planning and design, he is a past president of the United Arts Council, a founder of the former Arts Naples World Festival and a past president of Classic Chamber Concerts in Naples.
The Board of Directors has also appointed one of its members, Doug Olsen, as Creative Director.
The first priority, Baker said, is to move his courses online without a building from which to teach. Mold removal, she said, was a minor issue that should be completed by the third week of September.
But the cooling unit used by its air conditioning system relies on built-to-order equipment, “and we’re not the first in line,” she said. “When it will reopen depends on it.” “
However, said Baker, testing classes with instructors teaching from their home studios was thrilling.
“The students look at the teachers in the places where they create their work, and that gives them the authenticity of it,” said Baker, who is an acrylic and ink artist herself.
Fall season courses should be online shortly.
The art center has already opened its gift shop for sale online at naplesart.org/shop/. And the organization has set a date of November 6 for the “Scene to be Seen” fundraiser, which will offer limited turnout and streaming participation.
Naples Art, which was the Naples Art Association before a name change this year, is the oldest arts organization in Collier County, having celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2019. For more information, see the organization’s website : naplesart.org
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers the arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News / naplesnews.com. Contact her at 239-213-6091.