“This is a no-brainer.” Such was Carole Wolf’s gut reaction in 2016 when she decided to step down as executive director of Mill Street Loft and the hiring committee told her about an unconventional proposal from a top candidate to succeed her.
The proposal? Merge Mill Street — which Wolf had founded and built into one of Dutchess County’s most respected arts organizations over 33 years — with Spark Media Project, a media art, technology, and education agency serving young people, artists, schools, and others in the Hudson Valley. The candidate: Nicole Fenichel-Hewitt, executive director of Spark Media Project.
When Fenichel-Hewitt offered the idea, she saw an opportunity for two creative nonprofits to be stronger by uniting. Her vision was realized this January when she began heading The Art Effect, the newly merged organization that educates young people about the visual arts, media production and literacy, and workplace readiness.
This wasn’t the first time Fenichel-Hewitt filled the shoes of a trailblazing woman. A decade ago, she took over the helm of the Children’s Media Project (later called Spark Media Project) from Maria Marewski, who – like Wolf – had founded an influential organization and served as its only head. Together these three women provide enlightening storylines on leadership and organization-building.
A local student gets creative and messy.
Wolf first got to know Marewski during the early years of Children’s Media, and, “I saw someone like myself, with a lot of perseverance and passion.” She adds, “Women stick to things in a certain way. In our cases I think it’s because we saw the young lives we were changing and we took it very seriously.”
Regarding, Fenichel-Hewitt’s style of management, Marewski observes, “She was very attentive but not controlling, which in a creative environment is really important. I also saw she was very collaborative, and the staff really wanted to participate with her.”
These qualities were invaluable with the creation of The Art Effect, when Fenichel-Hewitt faced integrating two mature agencies of separate people, relationships, and working cultures. She found a way forward by rallying her colleagues around their shared creativity.
What’s Going On at The Art Effect
For example, under Fenichel-Hewitt the Friend of the Arts gala (an annual Mill Street tradition) became a powerful opportunity for staff team-building and for presenting the combined agency to supporters. “We started by getting everyone together for massive brainstorming,” she recalled. “The creativity and fun our team brought to that event was our first evidence that the merger enables us to do so much more and think much more broadly. We immediately transferred that collaborative energy into our programming.”
Notable to the creation of The Art Effect, the Dyson Foundation funded consulting services to guide Fenichel-Hewitt, the boards of both organizations, and the staffs through the restructuring process. Then nearly a year into the merger Dutchess County offered a significant vote of confidence through a nearly $60,000 grant for the agency’s youth workforce development programs. Soon after, Dutchess also granted $20,000 to the agency’s video production unit, Forge Media, to create a youth-designed outreach campaign about mental health and the county’s related HELPLINE phone service.