Forging Ahead

Meet the new executive director of Vis Arts, Stefanie Fedor.


Moving from the DC area, Stefanie Fedor recently started as new executive director of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.
  • Moving from the DC area, Stefanie Fedor recently started as new executive director of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond.

She’s only been in Richmond just under a month, but the new executive director of Visual Arts Center of Richmond, Stefanie Fedor, is already relatively versed with its art scene.

Fedor, who comes from a four-year stint as executive director of the Arlington Arts Center in Northern Virginia, replaces interim director Patty Wilkerson who took over for the departed Ava Spece.

Style caught up with her to ask her about her initial impressions of the city and what she plans to accomplish in her new role at one of the city’s most established public education centers for the arts.

Style: So what’s your impression of Richmond so far?

Fedor: I’m really excited to be here. I’ve lived in Chicago, Baltimore, New York City, most recently DC. And I was really attracted to Richmond because of the artistic community down here and specifically the visual arts community. I think you can see it really everywhere you drive around; it’s a vibrant-looking city, with the murals and a lot of living artists in the city. I’m excited to connect with that community and I’m starting to reach out.

Your most recent job was at the Arlington Arts Center – how does that match up to Vis Arts?

Yes, I was executive director there as well. It’s similar in programming to Vis Arts – it has a really good exhibitions programs and an education program as well [though] that is not near the size and scope of Vis Arts. The foundation of our program really was an artist-in-residency program, we had 12 long-term artists who lived and worked there. That’s really my main interest: to work with artists in the midst of their career and finding their way.

I had been coming to Richmond with some frequency – because in Arlington we had worked with a number of Richmond artists. We were a regional art center and that spread through Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland. So I had dealt with emerging artists from here and faculty from VCU. I got to know a little about what was going on in the art scene from that experience. ... One of the first [artists she worked with] was Emily Herman. Another was Amy Cheng who is still down here. Both of them had solo shows with me while I was there.

Why did you want to come here and take this job?

One of the reasons I was particularly attracted to Vis Arts: When I came down here and saw all the studios, letterpress, silkscreen, ceramic, I was kind of like a kid in candy store. I got really inspired by the high level of art experiences people had from a very young age here, and that’s really unique. Outside of a university, I haven’t seen any other community art center that has this level of opportunity to work with so many processes of media. It really harkens back to my own experience being a young artist -- I have an undergraduate degree from the Art Institute of Chicago.

The other thing I was interested in -- I think Vis Arts does a really amazing job at not just teaching but combining outreach with a lot of programs that go out into the community to find students who might not otherwise find us. That really sealed the deal for me. I see a lot of opportunity in the diff ways this organization is reaching the community.

What was your own art focus?

I have a studio degree and the program I graduated out of was fibers at the time, its called materials and studies now. That was a unique experience there [at Art Institute of Chicago] in that you could work across disciplines. I took sculpture, photography, printmaking, book art. Graduated doing a lot of large-scale screenprinting out of fabric.

And Vis Arts is looking for a new curator for its exhibitions?

We’ll continue to work with Caroline Wright [former director of exhibition programming] -- we have exhibitions lined up through 2016. We want to build off the amazing program she started by bringing in some new voices, really showing students the professional possibilities for what they’re learning. While I have a strong exhibitions background, I won’t actually be the curator. In the interim what we’ll do -- we’ll probably not hire immediately but use the opportunity to bring in other outside curators from around the area to learn about Vis Arts and Richmond artists. That’s a great opportunity to bring people in -- or from within the community to show them different perspective of what’s happening locally.

How is the financial health of Vis Arts?

We get a lot of our funding through earned income through the classes -- and those are really healthy. That was another area that made this position attractive, we do a good job of serving all ages. That’s an important part of the picture. We get great support through grants and foundations and longtime individual supporters. So we do have a very diverse portfolio and we’ll continue to work on that. ... Our most important funding event is collector’s night which happens in the Spring. We have a number of local sponsors or personalities who select a piece of art from a local artist and that goes up for auction. So it supports us and brings awareness to local artists.

Any announced exhibitions you’re particularly excited about?

We have a couple new exhibitions on radar. Hoss Haley, a sculptor located in Asheville, North Carolina. He essentially uses large scale found materials -- dishwashers, fridges, you might dig up from landfills, turns them into these pretty monolithic sculptures. There’s an interactive component too -- he has a drawing machine that will create a drawing based on people’s movements in the gallery [his exhibition runs Sept. 4 through Oct. 30]

The exhibition beyond that is Stacy Lynn Wadell from the Durham region [exhibition runs Nov. 13 through Jan. 8]. This is more than an exhibition, and I think this is a nice way forward for Vis Arts -- Stacy is making a lot of her work through a limited residency here in Richmond. She’s been coming down and working with different partners in region. She’s working with Big Secret [laser engravers] to make some prints. She uses a lot of branding and fire to make these sculptural drawings. She’ll be learning new techniques, expanding her practice, and will spend time with faculty here doing a letterpress process.

Inviting artists in to learn from our teachers to expand their vision -- that would be an interesting way to move forward and bring programs, teaching, classes, exhibitions, everything together under one roof.

Is there anything you will focus on changing right away at Vis Arts?

Vis Arts has a very solid foot in this community. I'm interested in understanding ways to grow our partnerships and how to reach new communities. But in terms of the amount and quality of programming, our focus on local and regional artists, on processing and materials, that’s going to stay the same.

Our mission is really strong and we’ve been doing it 52 years. I’m here to connect that even more so with Richmond community and beyond -- that’s what I see my first role as.

We just launched a program called “Profits” which brought high-school students from around the entire Richmond area to work with ad agency Release the Hounds and a local bank to learn arts and business practices. There’s a lot of creative industry here in Richmond and so, connecting with those groups expands the possibilities and conversation around creative thinking.

One of the ways people might not realize we’re out in community is Craft and Design show this fall at the Science Museum [Nov. 20-22]. It’s a really interesting thing we do, it brings people in from all over for a two-day event, hundreds of different artists and artisans who work in different mediums. Very competitive jury.

Have you gotten out to any other galleries or checked out other local artists?

I’m really well aware of Susie Ganch and Sonya Clark’s work. I haven’t been able to move around the city that well yet, still getting unpacked. Still learning the building here, actually, which I think is going well [laughs]. I’ve followed 1708 Gallery for a very long time. And I want to visit Studio Two Three, Art180, different groups that are really important to the arts community here.