creative:impact - Jenn Cornell Queen takes the helm at A2AC
Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explores the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.
ABOUT JENN CORNELL QUEEN:
Jenn Cornell Queen has been part of the Ann Arbor community for over 20 years. She joined A2AC in 2022 after over a decade of working at Ann Arbor SPARK, where she was senior vice president of marketing, communications, and events. Her professional experience includes working with public, private, academic, and nonprofit organizations, including the Detroit Lions, the University of Michigan, Hallmark Greetings, and Milk Means More. Additionally, Jenn is a former two-time business owner, having founded and ran a successful marketing agency as well as a weightlifting gym in Ann Arbor. Throughout her career, she has developed team building and leadership expertise as well as project and budget management, customer service, and fundraising skills. In addition to her professional endeavors, Jenn serves on the board of the Ecology Center, Family Learning Institute, Destination Ann Arbor, and Ann Arbor’s Main Street Area Association.
Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your creative:impact host. Thanks for tuning in every Tuesday to meet the artists and creatives who impact our local quality of life, place, and economy by choosing to live, work and create in Washtenaw County. Life changes, like a new job, are often as exciting as they are challenging. Imagine starting two new high-profile positions: one public and one professional within weeks. In mid-November last year, Jenn Cornell was elected and sworn in to represent Ann Arbor's Fifth Ward on the Ann Arbor City Council. Just weeks later, she was named as the new executive director at the Ann Arbor Art Center. That's a lot of new. We're going to hear about how it's all going for her. Jenn Cornell Queen, welcome to creative:impact.
Jenn Cornell Queen: Thank you so much for having me. Deb, I'm really thrilled to be here.
Deb Polich: Well, first, though, we aren't going to focus on your role at city council today, but more so on the art center. Let me say congrats on your election, and thank you for your public service.
Jenn Cornell Queen: Thank you. It's really been an exciting couple of months here.
Deb Polich: I bet.
Jenn Cornell Queen: Lots of change and lots of opportunity.
Deb Polich: Well, you bring many years of experience as a communications and public relations professional to the Ann Arbor Art Center, which is also known as the A2AC. Communication careers and all their specialties are included in our list of creative industries. You've also owned a small business. How have these experiences prepared you to lead a nonprofit cultural organization?
Jenn Cornell Queen: Yeah. Thanks for asking that question. I think, you know, when you start a business on your own and you bootstrap it, you learn how to be really scrappy and you definitely learn how to fail fast and make changes and take chances. And, you know, you're just sort of not afraid to experiment. And I think being in a creative organization, certainly that spirit is, you know, embodied throughout the staff and team here. For folks who don't know, the A2AC went through quite a renovation process where actually the building next door merged with the facility that we had before, which allowed us the capacity to open right on the first floor on Liberty Street next door to where you would have previously passed by our ceramics studio, which is still there. On the opposite side the next building over, there is a whole gallery space. And so, we have a whole new space to offer, you know, new and different types of classes, more classes. We also have a gallery right on, you know, that street level, which we've never had before. And so, I think what's been really exciting to me is being able to really push and figure out what's next, what is the next evolution of A2AC and what does that look like. And, you know, what is our place within the community? One of the things about my previous experience was, when I'm working in economic development, I'm thinking through, you know, what makes a vibrant downtown, what makes Ann Arbor a place where people want to live and work and play. And I see, you know, the arts scene here--arts and cultural scene here--as being really one of those main drivers of what makes Ann Arbor unique and just a special place to be. And, you know, we're finding our way and what our places is there. And, you know, the team here is really enthusiastic to find that footing and to be able to run from it. So, in a positive way, run forward from it.
Deb Polich: Sure, sure.
Jenn Cornell Queen: It's a real exciting time. And, like I said, I think, you know, just my ability to come from a startup world, you know, where you're also managing budgets and all of those things and lots of different people coming and going, you know, all those things sort of play into the perfect storm of me feeling like I'm in the right place at the right time right now.
Deb Polich: Which is so, so important. I always say to folks that are looking to go into the nonprofit world that having a personal mission is as important as all the skills that you have. Did you come to the art center with a mission, or are you discovering yours?
Jenn Cornell Queen: Yeah, that is a really great question. I think, for me, you know, when I sort of been adjacent to the Arts Center for a while because of my interest in just advancing things that make causes and organizations that make Ann Arbor so special. And, you know, so I've done a lot of both volunteer work and consulting work to A2AC before joining the organization. And so, when the opportunity to sort of lead it into this next new phase of what it means and what its impact potentially is on our community, you know, I really just jumped at the chance. And I think, for me, you know, my mission has, for a long time in my career, to have been a productive part of our community and to really contribute and to, you know, walk out of here at some point and feel really proud that, you know, I worked really hard to make a difference. And I think working in the creative sector, in particular, I think that's a really important part of who we are here in Ann Arbor and what we are proud of in terms of our city.
Deb Polich: Certainly.
Jenn Cornell Queen: And so, it feels like the culmination of a lot of different parts to bring me here.
Deb Polich: 89 one WEMU's creative:impact continues. I'm Deb Polich, and my guest is Jenn Cornell Queen, the executive director at the Ann Arbor Art Center. So, some people may not realize that the Arts Center is one of our oldest cultural organizations in the city--in the region, really. It dates back to 1909, making it 114 years old. What's it like to step into such an organization with such a legacy?
Jenn Cornell Queen: Yeah. Oh, my gosh. It's incredible to step into this organization. You know, people, I think for me, the real opportunity is for people who have known the Art Center, for one thing, you know, perhaps ten or even 15, even five years ago, we're different now. And, you know, we're offering new classes. We're offering a lot of new programs, like a date night program, which, you know, bring your best friend and have a night out, bring your spouse, bring whomever. You know, we're offering more workshops and really trying to make not only this building and the physical space in terms of our gallery being open--you can walk in, it's free--and immerse yourself in art right here downtown. All of these are ways to just make our mission more accessible to more people. And I think that that's really where we are right now as we built it. And now, we want people to come, and we want to program it in a way that makes it attractive for new people. So, for me, just carrying forward that evolution with an eye on equity and inclusion is really, really important and I believe is where we should be going forward as an organization to really fill the space that's available to us, in terms of, you know, being a good community member.
Deb Polich: You know, 114 years old. That's amazing. If you could pinpoint the Ann Arbor Art Center's secret power, what would that be? Why is it lasted so long?
Jenn Cornell Queen: Yeah, I think, why the Ann Arbor Art Center has lasted so long is just the variety of programing that is offered here. You know, we have classes for all skill levels. That has not changed. We absolutely are committed to being an organization where if you want to think about art in public and what does it look like to have a mural on a building, well, you know, we're ready and willing to help. And I think that that willingness to partner and to be flexible and adaptable has certainly added to our longevity. But I think being a space where lots of different people can picture themselves belonging is just as important. And it's certainly a focus for me, too. So, building on that legacy of, you know, being that hub for art and creative, visual and whatnot here in town, I'm carrying it forward to make it just more accessible. It's kind of the best of both worlds in terms of where we are and where we're headed.
Deb Polich: Well, and if you could really quickly, because we got to wrap up, if you could look forward a number of years, how are you going to define success for Jenn Cornell Queen, who's been at the helm?
Jenn Cornell Queen: Yeah, for me, I think success will look like making sure that we have a lot of different types of people--families, couples, you know, artists, people who are intimidated or had been intimidated by art--who, you know, I can look back and say, "Hey, now you've been taking classes here for a couple of years, and you didn't think you were an artist!" That would definitely be successful for me. And I think, you know, one of the things that we're really focused on is, you know, having people who are coming back out of their houses and coming into a new routine post-pandemic. So, to see us as a destination for them as well, whether it be as individuals or for a party or for a corporate event or for things like that. You know, me being able to walk out of this building at one point and say, "Wow, the vibe there is amazing! There's such incredible energy there and so many different types of people coming in and out all day!" I would get pretty darn good about my tenure.
Deb Polich: And you should. With your experience and skills, we can believe you're going to make all of that happen. Jenn, thanks so much for joining me on creative:impact.
Jenn Cornell Queen: Thank you so much for having me, and thank you for the thoughtful questions. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Deb Polich: Me too. That's Jenn Cornell Queen, the executive director at the Ann Arbor Art Center. Find out more about Jenn and the A2AC at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. We invite you to join us every Tuesday to meet the people who make Washtenaw creative. This is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.
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