It’s been over a month since Theresa Sweetland, the Artistic Director of Intermedia Arts, added Executive Director to her title. She is a Wisconsin native, an artist in her own right who previously studied music, and an Intermedia Arts staff member since 1997. Sweetland holds a degree in anthropology and recently completed her Master’s in urban planning. With a strong interest in the impact of art upon public policy and social justice, and previous experience working within the organization, she seems well-equipped to create the type of partnerships needed to sustain a non-profit serving artists from multiple disciplines.
As an organization, Intermedia Arts has traditionally embraced unconventional and disenfranchised artists—i.e. immigrant artists, artists of color, graffiti artists, and other artists who often could not find a home in other arts organizations. The proof is in the pudding. Anyone passing by can witness the graffiti art and tags adorning all sides of the building, or attend the organization’s Valentine’s Day fundraising event (complete with a kissing booth).
After talking about the genesis of Intermedia Arts, which began as the brainchild of a student group in the 1970s at the University of Minnesota, Sweetland discussed her concerns and vision for the organization. “I want to be that place where people can find each other—a place where artists can come together and think about what they need to do in their communities creatively.”
Sweetland nursed a cup of tea as we sat in the quaint literary library that is now a dedicated space for writers and poets housed inside Intermedia Arts as result of a recent merger with SASE. “Even though SASE as an organization no longer exists, the spirit, the mission, the programs still live on and we’re glad that we were in a position to make that happen.” Sweetland is well aware of her increased role in securing the financial health of the organization and how challenging that is in an atmosphere that looks very bleak for arts-based non-profits. It has also been a challenge to create a multi-use space to accommodate the needs of various artists.
Sweetland believes art is the beginning of a dialogue. Part of her strategy to survive as an organization is to “remain flexible and listen to what people need.” She emphasizes the need to encourage building community and understanding through art, as well as partnering with other organizations serving artists. “No need to reinvent the wheel.”