The vibrant arts and culture scene that we enjoy here in Woodbury is due in large part to Merrill Community Arts Center (MCAC). Home to Woodbury Community Theatre, Artists of Woodbury, the East Metro Symphony and a myriad of other arts groups, the organization exists to build community through a shared passion for music, theater and the visual arts. Last fall, MCAC gained two new leaders—executive director Barbe Marshall Hansen and managing director Kajsa Jones—who are both eager to serve the Woodbury community through doing what they love.
When MCAC founder Michelle Witte decided to step away from the organization last spring, the board of directors used it as a moment of reflection. “Michelle got a great opportunity to work for the Minnesota League of Women Voters, and it was one that she couldn’t pass up,” says board president Jeriann Jevning-Jones. “She decided to part ways with us, which was a tough decision for her, since she grew the baby. But when she did, we thought of it as a pivotal point where we could stop and breathe and take a look at what it is we want to do differently and what we want to do the same.”
Both positions drew many talented candidates, but throughout the selection process, Hansen and Jones stood out for their ability to merge the creativity of the art world with the administrative and management skills needed at a nonprofit. “Barbe has a lot of fundraising experience and she’s got an MFA in directing so she understands theater, but she also understands with theater in a nonprofit, we’ll always need to support ourselves somehow,” Jevning-Jones says. “Kajsa brought a lot of education experience with her. She’s worked at Hennepin Theater Trust in fund development, and she’s also a director herself. So, just bringing in these new people and their connections throughout the art community is immense.”
Hansen and Jones both began their respective roles in October and say the experience has been nothing but positive so far. “There are so many moving parts here—[MCAC] is such an enormous organization with so many people. It’s amazing,” says Hansen, former executive director at Twin Rivers Council for the Arts and most recently vice president of sales and marketing at Mad Science of Minnesota. Though she has extensive experience helping struggling organizations get back on their feet, she says that is far from necessary at MCAC. “Something is going very, very right here. It’s a mostly volunteer organization with hundreds of volunteers who have been loyal and love this place,” she says. “A lot of conflict always comes from not having enough money, but when you really get to a place where everything is healthy and [funds] are allocated in a way where everyone has enough, then things just start to bloom and grow. MCAC is in a good place, and I think we’ll be in a really great place in just a couple of years.”
Jones, who grew up here performing with Woodbury Community Theatre and local schools, echoes Hansen’s comments. “It’s been great so far; we hit the ground running and it’s really exciting and awesome to be a part of MCAC,” she says. “This is a strong, community-based organization, with a direct impact on the people it serves.”
Above all, both Hansen and Jones are excited to be able to integrate their passion for the arts with their professional pursuits. “Michelle built up this beautiful company with a really positive culture, and I hope I can maintain that,” Hansen says. “People here are generous. They’re all here for the company, they’re here for each other and they’re here for the community.”