Art Notes: AVA Gallery’s new director looks to guide nonprofit into its golden years

  • Shari Boraz, the new executive director of AVA Gallery, right, talks with Meredith Smith, left, about a possible collaboration during a visit to the fiber arts open studio that Smith facilitates at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. It was Boraz's second day on the job after taking over for interim executive director Hilde Ojibway. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Shari Boraz, of Hanover, photographed at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, became the arts organization's executive director this month. Boraz is herself a fiber artist working with embroidery and fabric dyeing and comes to AVA after working in management positions at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth College. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Shari Boraz, of Hanover, photographed at AVA Gallery in Lebanon, N.H., on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, became the arts organization's executive director this month. Boraz is herself a fiber artist working with embroidery and fabric dyeing and comes to AVA after working in management positions at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth College. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/2/2021 6:34:46 AM
Modified: 12/2/2021 6:34:14 AM

For a nonprofit organization, AVA Gallery and Art Center is well-established, but it isn’t particularly old for a gallery.

Founded in 1973 in a Norwich barn, the nonprofit visual arts center has grown steadily, and sometimes swiftly. It now inhabits two buildings at 11 Bank St., in Lebanon, including the former H.W. Carter and Sons clothing factory.

AVA’s new executive director, Shari Boraz, sees it as an organization that despite its success and nearly five decades of operation, is still young. Her aim is to help it grow old and deepen its roots in the community.

“Now we’re moving into a more mature stage of our lifetime,” Boraz, who starter he new job Monday, said of AVA this week. “I just want to see it exist until 2073,” when it would turn 100, and beyond.

To do that, she said, AVA will need to deepen its ties to the community in such a way that everyone who lives in the Upper Valley feels comfortable taking advantage of what AVA has to offer, from classes to just stopping in to look at art.

Art “enhances the quality of life,” she said.

In choosing Boraz from among 70 applicants, AVA’s board saw in her a leader who fit all the requirements, said Alan DiStasio, the board’s chairman.

“It was clearly obvious to us ... that Shari was very passionate about the organization and why she wanted to be there,” DiStasio said.

“She has deep familiarity with the organization already,” Bente Torjusen, who led AVA from 1986 to 2016, said this week. She also noted that Boraz is a textile artist. “That resonates so nicely with the building’s past.”

Boraz, who has lived in the Upper Valley since 1998 but declined to give her age, said she hopes the AVA job will be her last, the one she retires from. The position pays $80,000 a year.

Her resume reads like it was compiled by someone who has been preparing her entire life to lead a visual arts organization.

A native of Skokie, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, Boraz earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, majoring in textile design and art education. While living in Cincinnati with her then-husband Edward Boraz, she started a business selling Jewish ceremonial items, first through a catalog and then as an early adopter of the internet.

When her husband’s job, as rabbi to the Upper Valley Jewish Community and Dartmouth College’s Hillel chapter, brought them and their two children to Hanover, she maintained her business.

In 2005, she closed the business and began a series of jobs at Dartmouth and Dartmouth-Hitchcock. She handled a lot of the scut work of running a nonprofit — coordinating events and data collection, wrangling student volunteers to solicit donations by phone, organizing the work of D-H’s Value Institute Learning Center.

At the same time, she earned a master's degree in nonprofit management through Regis University, graduating in 2011. The degree is a complement to her credential from the Art Institute.

“I think if you look at my degrees, my degrees indicate my passion for fine art and nonprofit management,” Boraz said.

While she worked at Dartmouth, she also volunteered at AVA: From 2013 to 2016, she and her friend Meredith Smith led a fiber arts studio drop-in, helping people who wanted to explore textiles as an artistic medium. She’s been an AVA member since 2012.

She and Edward divorced in 2018, when he left his job in Hanover. Their two children, now adults, graduated from Hanover High School.

The AVA job is a big one. When she started, Heidi Reynolds, the most recent past executive director, called it “a 100-hour-a-week job.” Between the work itself and the pandemic, the job was “all-consuming,” Reynolds said when she announced her resignation, which took effect June 30.

Since Torjusen’s 2016 retirement, the organization has wrestled with how to replace her. It’s worth remembering that Torjusen moved from Norwich to within walking distance of AVA. That kind of devotion is hard to come by.

Boraz said AVA has a strong staff in place, and that she plans to look after her own well-being. The organization also is on a solid financial footing.

At the same time, AVA is in the midst of a $2.7 million fundraising effort leading up to its 50th anniversary in 2023. Two years later, AVA will be able to celebrate 35 years in Lebanon.

The fundraising drive is intended to make AVA into a sturdier organization, with financial reserves that allow it to weather economic storms and a staffing structure that spreads out the workload.

Raising that money and bringing more people into AVA — as many as the coronavirus pandemic will allow — will keep Boraz and her staff fully occupied.

“We’re all just trying to add an important ingredient to this community,” Boraz said.

A reception for Boraz is planned for 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at AVA Gallery and Art Center in Lebanon. On view now is AVA’s annual Holiday Exhibition and Sale.

First Friday in the WRJ

The last First Friday of 2021 coincides, of course, with the gift-giving season. Local art, its supporters are fond of pointing out, experiences no supply chain delays.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio opens a holiday exhibition with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m.

Brooklyn-based artist Jacob Graham brings his experimental TV programming, The Creatures of Yes, to Kishka Gallery. A reception is planned for 5 to 9 p.m.

Scavenger Gallery holds a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. for Judith Vivell, who shows recent abstract mixed-media works on raw canvas.

Tourist Gallery hosts “Warm Regards,” paintings by Karlotta Freier, Polly Shindler and Jenny Walker.

And Zollikofer Gallery, in the Hotel Coolidge, holds a reception for artists Mary Fox Church, Fran Gardent and Judith Pettingell from 5 to 7 p.m.

Tom Rush in New London

A longtime Upper Valley favorite, singer-songwriter Tom Rush, performs two shows, at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Flying Goose Brew Pub in New London on Sunday. Tickets are $60 and are available by calling 603-526-6899. Proof of vaccination will be required. Rush has already weathered one bout with COVID-19 and isn’t eager to face another one.

And so it begins

Seasonal entertainments recounting everything from the birth of Jesus to the downfall of the Mouse King get underway this weekend. Brace yourselves for holiday cheer, fellow introverts.

Dreamz in Motion, a new dance company based in Springfield, Vt., will perform its take on The Nutcracker at Claremont Opera House this weekend. Performances are scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Masks are required and seating will be distanced. Tickets are $22; $18 for children 10 and under, and are available at claremontoperahouse.info.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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