Arts for Lawrence Welcomes New Executive Director Elana Thompson
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Sam Zachrich
Elana Thompson is a renaissance woman who has reinvented herself numerous times over the course of her lifetime, all the while learning, growing and smiling. She’s worked in pharmaceutical sales and at universities in recruitment and retention, done a good deal of fundraising, engaged in diversity and equity training, worked as a Gallup strength coach, and been involved with a number of nonprofit organizations. Now she is Arts for Lawrence’s new executive director.
“When I first started working, I would say, ‘I think I’m going to try this,’” Thompson says. “It was always so exciting to be able to create and start something different. I’m a learner.”
Encouraged by her parents and others to be creative, Thompson has had a love and appreciation for art ever since she was a little girl.
“I have a big imagination,” she says. “I see big things. It used to be, you’d go out and build something with sticks using your imagination. It concerns me that in our society today there is so much tech that there is not a lot of downtime to be with your thoughts and get creative.”
Her imagination and drive make her the perfect person to step into the executive director role at Arts for Lawrence, now that Judy Byron has retired as longtime director. When the job description was posted, Thompson’s jaw dropped because it was everything she loved to do. With ample experience as an inspiring communicator, motivational manager and fundraising expert, she was eager to jump into this role feet first.
“I love energizing people, and I’ve been involved in a lot of community-focused partnerships as well as leadership programs throughout the community,” says Thompson, who officially started her role on September 6. For several weeks she overlapped with Byron, who worked alongside her, which Thompson appreciated.
“I loved soaking up and learning everything I could from her,” says Thompson, who applauded her predecessor for leaving at a time when Arts for Lawrence is in great shape, with no loose ends to tie up. “Judy is well-respected in the community and I plan to continue to build on the relationships she created.”
Arts for Lawrence offers plays and programming on a weekly basis, and also participates every week in the Farmers Market. There is also Fridays at the Fort, a free concert series that includes live music and food trucks. In addition, it offers various art classes, a summer camp, line-dancing classes, drawing classes and more. While Thompson is thrilled that Arts for Lawrence offers diverse programming, she would like to find ways to pull in more diverse audiences to appreciate it.
She wants the public to understand that arts appreciation is for everyone, and she wants to find ways to break down barriers to make art accessible to everyone. She plans to go into various communities and ask what they would like to see, and what would draw them in. She also wants to meet community stakeholders in Lawrence to hear their thoughts.
“As children we create and paint and draw, and never worry what anyone else thinks, but unfortunately as we get older, we begin to worry that what we create will be judged,” Thompson says. “I want to create a space where artists can be comfortable in their skin to do and see and enjoy what everyone has to offer.”
The reason she is so passionate about art is because she recognizes that it sustains us in good times and bad.
“Art is an expression of life,” she says. “Art can be a bridge that allows people to communicate and connect to areas that may not easily be verbalized. Art allows us to have tough conversations, and to explore issues that are not talked about or are taboo. Art opens up lines of communication that may not have previously been there.”
This is true whether the artistic expression involves music, writing, painting, sculpture, theater or another medium. Art helps us process, heal and feel. It’s the reason we play that go-to song when we need to get pumped up, and why we reread a certain poem or story when saddled with grief.
“Art comes into play in so many different ways,” Thompson says. “It’s pertinent and important in so many ways. It’s creative innovation that’s indefinable by words.”
Thompson has two sons, Dylan, 17, and Devin, 14, and an energetic Doberman. She has other passions too. In her spare time, she loves to design and decorate spaces for weddings, parties and other events. She also stages homes.
“That’s my fun creative outlet,” she says. Her friends tell her that she should get a business card that lists all of her skills, but there might not be a card big enough to print all of them.
Arts for Lawrence is located at 8920 Otis Avenue in Indianapolis. For more information, call 317-875-1900 or visit artsforlawrence.org.