You have probably heard by now that Stu Kestenbaum, the director of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, is leaving the position in May. After twenty-seven years, if all goes according to plan, Haystack will have a new director in the fall. For those of us who know and love Haystack, it is difficult to think of the place, the experience of being there, without simultaneously thinking of Stu. Of course, those of us who knew Fran Merritt, the founding director, still see his influence there, as well.
Change isn’t always welcome. For some of us, we will go out of our way to avoid it. But when change is inevitable, we hope to see it as an opportunity. This is definitely an opportunity. No one will “replace” Stu. He is one of a kind. He has been the best of the best during his directorship. Now we need to look for someone who will become the next best of the best. (I know that the word, best, is a superlative and that therefore there can only be one, but I’m taking poetic license here.)
What qualities do you look for in a potential director of a major non-academic art education and research institution? This is where it gets sticky. There really are few predictors for success in the traditional sense. No degrees, experiences or previous posts can really predict what will happen at a unique situation such as living and working on Deer Isle, Maine, at a world class school based on both tradition and the future of the work of the hand, where the faculty is all invited and the students are from 18 to 90-something years of age, coming from every state in the country and dozens of foreign countries. So what do we look for?
Here’s my short list, which is totally personal and not to be taken as official in any way.
1. Vision. A slippery word, I know. The vision thing. But it is important in an institution that essentially shuts down each winter, comes alive in the summer, changes along with the fields of craft, art and design, values communication with the other arts and serves a huge and disparate community. If there is no clear and over-arching vision, it would be easy for things to go astray or to become small and repetitive.
2. Organizational skills. As much as Haystack seems to happen as if by magic, it takes an enormous amount of work and coordination to make it seem so effortless. The staff we have now is remarkable and the new director will need to live up to that standard and be able to meet the demands of every aspect of the running of the school.
3. Authenticity. That word is way overused these days, but I guess I mean that the director will have to be comfortable in his or her own skin and comfortable with this odd entity called Haystack. Because it exists essentially because of the people who drive down that long road to be there for two weeks or four days or a weekend, it changes with every arrival. The director has to feel comfortable with the constant change.
And then we have intelligence, a sense of humor, the ability to talk to people, the ability to listen to people, kindness, a passion for making, on and on. The process of searching for this person will require exactly the same qualities, now that I think of it. Wish us luck. Haystack is a very big idea with a big history. We’re at a juncture of past and future right now and we want to make sure that its success continues to enrich the lives of the people who go there and the people they touch for many many years to come.