Education

Willoughby Fine Arts Association’s director of education embracing challenges, future

FINE ARTS-WORKMAN

Lora Workman knew when she was hired this summer as the fourth director of education in the history of The Fine Arts Association that things would be somewhat different.

But if anyone was fit to serve in the role of director of education, after the departure of Jeannie Fleming-Gifford, Workman possessed the pedigree.

She’s been at Playhouse Square in Cleveland for nearly 20 years and involved in the arts in numerous capacities, including performance and administration, for over 25 years. Her additional responsibilities at the downtown cultural institution included program selection for the annual Children’s Theater Series, International Children’s Theater Festival and Discovering the Performing Arts.

Workman also created resource tools for principals, teachers and parents to better prepare students for a live theater-going experience, resulting in the attendance of over 400,000 students and teachers during her tenure.

Workman, who oversees and coordinates Fine Arts’ educational programming in the disciplines of music, visual arts, theater, dance, and music and art therapies, including the management of personnel, curriculum and resources, knows while things are different from Playhouse, the commitment to the arts remains the same, regardless of national or regional scale.

“This position has and is unique in the fact that 50-plus people report to me, including all the private teachers, and other faculty, and they all have very different needs, and I’m continuing to focus on that,” she said. “Hopefully, within a year or two, there’s a little more cohesiveness within each of those departments. But with change like this there are always challenges. My predecessor did an excellent job to create off-site programs that have proved to be very successful for Fine Arts and I want to continue to do that.

“It’s a small faculty and staff, with four new people, including me, but everyone here is very dedicated, they’re really hard workers. Change this large can be very challenging — it’s not a bad challenge, just a shift, and for me, too. I want departments to feel empowered to know that they hold the key to making all the programs stronger. I’ve been in the arts a long time. I’m not looking at changing anything. I need to see how programs work and what’s successful or what has challenges, and then reassess and look at things differently. I think there are things that are definitely strong, and some other things, as I keep going, I’ll notice that need some tuning up.”

In addition to her arts education experience, Workman, who resides in the Cleveland suburb of Brooklyn, is also an award-winning director/producer, her many ventures including “Class by The Glass” — a successful series of interactive cabarets/wine tastings. She has been a champion and advocate of the cabaret art form both regionally and nationally, having studied the genre in Italy and New York City, and was selected to participate in the renowned Yale Cabaret Conference.

According to a Fine Arts news release, Workman’s production company, The Cleveland Cabaret Project, has introduced and sponsored concerts and master classes with such artists as Liz Callaway, Alex Rybeck and Pamela Myers, as well as her sold-out Cabaret 101 Workshops.

In addition, her work as a choreographer has included The North Coast Men’s Chorus, where she has served as resident choreographer since 1997. During her tenure, she has facilitated and worked with many guest artists, including Bernadette Peters, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Michael Feinstein and Linda Eder.

“What’s impressive is there’s a matinee series here and it sells out,” she said. “We opened ‘Xanadu’ to one of the strongest opening weekends we’ve (ever) had. The cast is amazingly talented. ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ was the best show they ever had here in the month of June as far as attendance and revenue. Of course, presenting here is different than Playhouse, regarding monies and national (level) attention, but people don’t realize how lucky they are here in Northeast Ohio as far as accessibility and cost.”

Workman holds a bachelor’s degree from Baldwin-Wallace College, now Baldwin Wallace University, and completed over 30 hours of graduate-level course work in Arts Management at the University of Akron. She serves on the advisory committee of The Singing Angels and is a member of the International Performing Arts for Youth, Theater for Young Audiences, and Theatre Communications Group.

“As someone who has committed their life to the arts, it is an honor to be a part of The Fine Arts Association,” she said. “I look forward to continue sharing my experience and passion to this already thriving institution. I’m very much vested here; I want people to know I’m part of the culture. Playhouse is much larger, but to me, workshops, programming is about being mindful about where you are and what the community is. I’ve always thought this was a beautiful facility, and I never realized how beautiful this area is.

“At the end of the day, the commonality is the enjoyment of the arts and getting students engaged in the arts. In a society of phones and technology, the arts continue to provide a connection with people, and I see it in students all the time.”

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