April Nyman’s mother had nine brothers and sisters, where helping each other was a way of life. It was instilled in April from a young age that helping others was what you did.
Today, April is the Executive Director of the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County, where she lives the spirit of helping every day. She is soft-spoken and deliberate, and both serious and fun at the same time. We had a great time chatting over a glass of wine.
When she started her career after college with her BS in Marketing, she worked in the mall and hotel industries. In jobs such as Marketing Director for regional shopping centers, she worked with merchant associations on advertising and funding. She was good at her job and especially good at helping them secure funding.
Because she was raised in a culture of helping others, she naturally gravitated towards volunteer opportunities. April was always attracted to the arts. She loved the entire spectrum of arts and artists because she could see their passion and their drive to make their community better. As she began to volunteer and help the arts in various capacities, her corporate management saw the light in her eye and got her on board as a volunteer while still working in her marketing job, where she honed her skills in working with state and local governments to advocate for funds and capital fundraising.
Becoming the development person on the board was a turning point for her, and she realized that her role was to serve the arts through funding.
In Pensacola, Florida (her home town) she became the first woman Executive Director for the Fiesta of Five Flags Celebration, a historical festival that included the arts, pageantry, races – a multitude of events. An annual festival, she developed it into a much larger event, bringing festivals from other areas through the Chamber of Commerce to support the funding.
As a navy wife, she moved around quite a bit between Pensacola, New Orleans, Coronado, and Atsuji, Japan.
Atsuji, Japan was clearly one of her favorites and she glowed when she talked about living there for three years. Arriving with a one-year old in tow, she had her second baby there. It was vibrant and exciting. “I loved it,” April remembers. “The theatre and arts in Japan are amazing.”
This is perhaps where April’s artistry was in the fore: cooking. She taught western cooking, and was also an English instructor for corporations. With a broker that scheduled classes for her, they paid well, and she was always busy. She made it sound wondrous.
She also loved living in New Orleans; moving away only three short weeks before Katrina hit. She goes back to visit often.
“I stay in contact with former students and friends – we share great stories and adventures,” April told me. “I’ve looked at every place I’ve lived as a learning experience; a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
April is great at seeing possibilities. Throughout her moves she worked with the Navy League and added many more accomplishments to her resume, so when she arrived in Anne Arundel County in 2007, it was to be the final designation before her then husband retired.
She was delighted when she saw the opening at the Arts Council of Anne Arundel County. They took a chance on the unknown, and hired her as their Executive Director. The budget was $400,000 in those days; it is now $1.3 million.
“This year we will distribute about $800,000 in funding,” says April. “My passion is to make sure there is funding so that we can support all of the talent and that it can be delivered to the community to make us better. I am the voice for the talent.”
The Arts Council has expanded their programs to include Art in Education, providing $65,000 to support artists for auditorium and residency programs. On the roster is also a workshop for teachers to show them how they can bring the arts into curriculum, because children learn better with the arts. “The test scores prove that it works, Nyman explains. “Kids remember history re-enacted through a play – there are so many tools and techniques that they can make teaching fun.”
Her goal: To fill the gaps, continuing to provide more and more support in areas of need. The Council’s role is to ensure the arts organizations in the area have what they need to support the artists, including a new initiative that will provide professional services to art non-profits like board facilitators, accounting or legal advice.
The Arts Council does sponsor several significant juried exhibitions for Anne Arundel County artists: a rotating art exhibit (changes four times annually) at BWI Airport, and a “What’s Up? Media” sponsored exhibit at their headquarters, where the Best in Show artist gets featured in What’s Up? Magazine Annapolis.
April loves her job, and loves the area. She has three wonderful kids, ages 25, 23, and 20. Her oldest is a musician who does scores for short films among other things; her second child is in Business School, and her third is a sophomore at James Madison, studying to become a teacher. She is enormously proud of all of three of them, and following in their mom’s footsteps, they have each volunteered at all of the Arts Council fundraisers and many of their events.
I asked if she had anything she would say to sum it up or to add, and she was very clear:
“Advocacy is my passion.”
For which we are grateful. Her efforts are tireless, successful, sustainable, and it seems – never ending.
Thank you, April!
Images courtesy of Patrice Drago and April Nyman