For Woodstock Arts founders Ann Litrel and Shawn McLeod the reality is even better than the dream. The dynamic duo first conceived the idea of a place to provide the community with performing and visual arts experiences fifteen years ago, and together they were the spark that brought that dream to life.

Woodstock Arts is now flourishing with performing arts productions, outdoor concerts, visual arts exhibits, cultural events, classes, and camps. What started with two employees and a $100,000 annual budget now has twenty staff members and a $1.5 million annual budget, much of it earned income from classes and performances.

Woodstock Arts Board of Directors President Katie Caldwell credits Ann and Shawn with where the organization is today. “The vision for Woodstock Arts originated with Ann and Shawn, who saw a need for arts engagement in our community and gave much of their time, talent, and heart to ensure the legacy of a thriving arts presence that continues to grow and inspire,” Katie shares.

The dream began in 2008 when Shawn and Ann started looking for a path to provide a performing and visual arts center for the city. They teamed up with Gay Grooms, founder of the Towne Lake Art Center. At the time, Shawn owned an art gallery in the city and Ann had an art studio in downtown Woodstock.

“Ann and I were approached about saving an old house, the original Reeves House. We were introduced to Gay, who was looking to move her theater into downtown Woodstock, and a crazy plan of creating a full arts center and theater was born,” Shawn remembers. “Being a visual artist and having owned an art gallery in downtown Woodstock, I knew, as they say, ‘build it and they will come.’ Having a home for all artists was my motivation.”

Ann remembers that the support was almost immediate when the three approached local governments, businesses, and community leaders.

“The three of us made a presentation to both the city and the county, and there was an agreement for the four acres of land where the Reeves House was located,” Ann points out. “Shawn and Gay and I worked together, and the city allowed us to use City Center and convert that facility into an arts center so that Towne Lake could move into downtown.”

Shawn is grateful that the community stepped up to help with the project to buy the Reeves property. “We met with a lot of important people who heard what we wanted to do, understood how it would benefit our city, county, and community, and helped make it happen.”

“The vision has always been to engage community, and only then could it be successful,” Ann adds. “Very few small towns have what we now have in Woodstock. We have garnered national attention for what has been accomplished here for arts.”

In the beginning development of the Reeves property started as an outdoor stage and performance area, Ann remembers. “It was a beautiful green space, and we envisioned a garden, a place where people could paint, perform, or sculpt. I loved the idea of bringing the community together to make beautiful works of art.”

The women complemented each other’s abilities and strengths. Shawn recalls, “It was a natural fit from the very beginning with Ann and me. Meeting her for the first time I realized we both had a passion for the arts, for our city, and [we had the] tenacity for getting things done. That natural connection was the main reason we worked well together. We balanced our strengths and weaknesses so that together, and with Gay Grooms, we just never gave up.”

Ann praises Shawn for her contributions and says the two were able to divide up what needed to be done to make the project successful. What they didn’t know, they quickly learned. “We had to learn about budgets, hiring a staff, building a board, governance, and board relations, just a few small things,” Ann says with a laugh. “Shawn had a ton of managerial experience, and she was president of the board for several years. She was very much about the development and staff management. She is a very talented manager. My areas were public relations, board recruitment, fundraising, and governance, as well as [ensuring] that the board had cohesion and that there was a vision and direction.”

Gay was the artistic director of the theater, Ann explains. The next goal was to hire an operations manager, and after a national search, Christopher Brazelton was chosen out of eighty-five applicants. Gay later retired in 2015, and today Christopher leads Woodstock Arts as executive director.

“We needed to find someone who could take us where we wanted to go. He was the perfect choice because of his entrepreneurial spirit and his interest in performing arts,” Ann says.

Ann is also grateful to developer John Weiland, who donated to the project early on and helped finish The Reeves House.

When asked how she feels about where Woodstock Arts is today, Shawn replies, “So proud. Christopher Brazelton and his staff continue to make what we dreamed a reality. I am not involved like I once was; time for another generation,” she says with a chuckle. “But those things we dreamed about, the ideas of what could we do? I see them [brought] to reality. So exciting!”

Both women continue to be vibrant forces in their community. “I haven’t stopped being a part of downtown Woodstock,” Shawn says. “I got involved with Reformation Brewery before it opened its doors and now I am director of administration for the company. Being part of something that is bigger than just me is in my blood.”

Ann has continued her career as an artist and is working on a book with well-known journalist and author Charles Seabrook for the University of Georgia Press expected to come out in late 2024 or early 2025.

Visit AnnLitrel.com…

 

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