Lighthouse ArtCenter’s director looks ahead to building gallery/school’s outreach
by Mary Thurwachter, Florida Weekly
A GALLERY REMODEL WAS AMONG THE FIRST TASKS undertaken during Nancy A. Politsch’s first year as executive director at Lighthouse ArtCenter. This year, the gallery’s exterior will be treated to a spruce-up, too.
There have been more changes. Some technical issues with phones and computers have been addressed and a new POS system keeps track of donors and staff, so business matters are running more smoothly. Membership is increasing. Classes, teachers and equipment, including a new soda kiln, are being added to the school.
It’s all part of Ms. Politsch’s mission for the center to have a bigger draw. “I don’t want to be the best kept secret in Tequesta,” she said. “I want people to know about us. I would like to pull in some younger people. We appeal to a lot of those 45 and above. We get younger people through the camps, where parents are often in their 30s.”
Founded in 1964 by eight artists and Christopher Norton, the son of the founders of the Norton Museum of Art, the Lighthouse ArtCenter has surely evolved way beyond Norton’s expectations, Ms. Politsch said. The museum and school of art have become northern Palm Beach and southern Martin counties’ oldest and largest visual arts organization.
A fine art collection, docent tours, lectures, educational exhibits, concerts and special events are all parts of mix.
The center’s school of arts, housed in a separate building within easy walking distance of the museum, provides classes for children and grown-ups in drawing, ceramics, sculpture, jewelrymaking, painting, photography and summer camps.
A nonprofit charitable organization, the center serves upward of 60,000 people a year.
“The ArtCenter is here to engage, educate, entertain and enrich our community,” Ms. Politsch said. And part of her job is to make sure people know about it.
Born in Kansas City and raised in St. Louis, Ms. Politsch moved to Florida last year. And, while she enjoys photography (above and underwater) and fused glass art — and has won awards for her work and published two books of her photography, she doesn’t consider herself to be an artist. “I’m not here to promote myself,” she said.
In fact, her background is in banking and wealth management. She has an MBA from the University of Missouri.
Prior to taking the job at Lighthouse ArtCenter, Ms. Politsch was a senior vice president at Wells Fargo Private Bank in Baltimore. But the arts have always been an important part of her life, as well. Before the move to Florida, she was on the board of directors executive committee for the Maryland Hall Center for The Creative Arts in Annapolis, was chairwoman of its finance committee and chaired the center’s annual fundraising event.
Some of the board members in Maryland were also on the board at Lighthouse. That’s how she learned of the executive director’s position in Florida.
“I’m involved in everything here,” Ms. Politsch said. “I know a little about lots of stuff because of travel, because of clients, because of experience. I’m grateful I have a lot to bring to this.”
Her financial background and her work in Annapolis make her a good choice for the job. Early in her life, Ms. Politsch, who resides in Port St Lucie with her husband and her 80-year-old parents, says she contemplated a different career path.
“I love dogs and went to college to be a veterinarian,” she said. “I did not do well in my science classes and moved to journalism. I knew I was a good photographer, but could I make a living? I switched to finance and it came easy. I have been in the financial services industry for over 38 years. I have managed mutual funds and portfolios for foundations and wealthy individuals. I have been able to travel for work and meet many wonderful people.”
Ms. Politsch was named one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women by The Daily Record, which recognizes outstanding women who are both professional and community leaders.
Her advice to young folks looking for success: “In any field, love what you do. Life is too short to be miserable. And it’s not all about the money.”
At Lighthouse ArtCenter, Ms. Politsch, 59, oversees a $1.3 million budget. Revenues come from memberships, grants, school tuition and two fundraisers — the annual Plein Air Festival, with nationally recognized artists painting for four days, capturing the beauty and everyday sights at various locations in Jupiter, Juno Beach, Northwood Village and Palm Beach; and D’art for Art, which features dinner and artwork, jewelry, and artisan home decor donated by local and national artists, galleries and designers. The ArtCenter’s popular “3rd Thursdays” give visitors a chance to mingle with other art aficionados while sipping wine and nibbling hors d’oeuvres and listening to concerts, lectures, art demonstrations, live performances and gallery talks.
“We have a very generous board,” Ms. Politsch said. They help in many ways, including by underwriting events.
Ms. Politsch’s five-year goal is to fund a new building, which would allow the ArtCenter gallery and the school to be in the same spot. For that to happen, 20,000 square feet are needed.
“Our exhibits are fantastic,” she said. “We have shows here you will never see anywhere else.
One example: “Illuminating the Deep,” which showcased the collaborative genius of the internationally-recognized authority on bioluminescence, Dr. Edie Widder, and the artist, Steven Bernstein, PhD, combining art and science. Their photographic images of unimagined creatures, captured in the depths of the sea, accompanied by informational panels, provided a colorful and engaging introduction to the language of light (and giant squid) in the oceans.
“We’re bringing in a wearable art show later this year,” Ms. Politsch said.
The current show, which runs through Aug. 11, “Drawn to the Arts,” brought in 15 children’s books authors/illustrators, including Lighthouse’s curator, Janeen Mason, author and illustrator of national award-winning children’s books.
The center’s Summer Enrichment Camp continues through Aug. 11 and an end-of-summer show of campers’ work will be displayed through the week of Aug. 7. Lighthouse will have a back-to-school bash Aug. 13, when summer Art- Campers will be invited back to celebrate with Page Turner Adventures, receive prizes for their artwork and create a temporary community art installation.
There’s always something going on, always so much to do.
“The days go superfast,” she said, “and it’s pretty much what I expected. I’m working harder now than I ever did in my career. But it’s a labor of love.”