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Director of TI Arts Center drops ‘interim’ title, looks forward to exciting year

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CLAYTON — Leslie W. Rowland had been coming to the Thousand Islands for the summers since she can remember. Now she’s a permanent resident and marvels at the area’s potential as she settles into the executive director position at the Thousand Islands Arts Center.

“I think it’s amazing,” said Ms. Rowland, a native of Rome, N.Y. “I’ve lived in big cities and small towns. I just think this area has a lot to offer for the size it is.”

One element that makes the Thousand Islands Arts Center successful is community support, said Ms. Rowland, who became executive director of the organization on Jan. 1, about six months after she was named interim executive director following the departure of executive director Rebecca Hopfinger.

“What we offer, on the budget we have, with a staff of three and a half is pretty amazing,” said Ms. Rowland. “One of the reasons we are able to do that is that we have a very supportive board and community.”

The SUNY Potsdam graduate splits her time between Wellesley Island in the summer and Clayton in the winter. She is married to Frederick H. “Fritz” Hager, director of the Antique Boat Museum.

Previously, Ms. Rowland was the principal of LWRPR LLC, an independent consulting firm advising clients on marketing communications and event planning in Central New York. Prior to founding LWRPR in 1999, Ms. Rowland was district director for U.S. Congressman Sherwood Boehlert, and also spent a decade in the airline industry as a public relations manager for regional and international airlines, and later as a lobbyist for the Air Transport Association, the Washington D.C.-based national trade association of the major U.S. airlines.

Ms. Rowland also spent several years in the advertising business as an account executive and new business development manager.

She said the arts center gets “100 percent” from its board members, which will assist in her plans for the center.

“My vision is to see the arts center continue to grow,” Ms. Rowland said. “It’s had some rocky years recently, with the downturn in the economy in 2008. We survived without any bruises. I think it’s amazing that you have an organization like this and we’re completely debt free. That would be the envy of a lot of other not-for-profits.”

The executive director said she would like to see the center expand its programming and to attract top-quality artisans.

The center offers classes in fiber arts, drawing and painting and ceramics. Classes are held for children and adults in all skill levels. There also have weaving and pottery studios.

The center began as the Thousand Islands Craft School in 1966. The first class had 44 students. Now, more than 500 students are served annually at classes.

The center is the home of the nationally renowned Handweaving Museum. It holds a collection of more than 2,200 textiles from around the world, dating from ancient Egyptian times to present day. The primary focus is on 20th century American handwoven textiles, textile-making, and associated social and economic histories. The permanent collection includes a library and an archive which consists of documents pertaining to 20th century American handweaving. The center’s website features a searchable database of its textile collection.

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Main events this year at the Thousand Islands Arts Center:

May 17 and 18: The 20th annual Weaving History conference

June 26: “Along the River’s Edge” exhibition opening reception

Aug. 9 and 10: The 50th annual antique show and sale. Wine and cheese preview is on Aug. 8.

Aug. 23 and 24: The annual arts and crafts show and sale

Ms. Rowland noted that the Antique Boat Museum’s antique raceboat regatta on Aug. 8 through 10 will overlap with the center’s antique show and sale. She said someone once told her that she should check the calendar to make sure such events don’t compete during the same weekend.

But Ms. Rowland looks at the two events on the same weekend as a good thing.

“To me, Clayton should be a destination where you come and there’s tons of things to do,” she said. “I think it’s good that we’re going to have these two major events that weekend. It will be a huge draw. And now, with the hotel, we’ve finally got someplace for these people to stay.”

The 1000 Islands Harbor Hotel, a 105-room, full-service boutique hotel and conference center, is under construction at the former Frink site in the village with a summer opening scheduled.

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