Marty Wollesen will be the new executive director of the Ah Haa School for the Arts, starting this month, the board of directors recently announced. Wollesen of Washington, D.C., will replace longtime executive director Judy Kohin, whose last day is June 1.
A life-long learner, Wollesen brings over 25 years of innovative leadership in the arts and arts education. Having led several multi-disciplinary performing arts organizations through significant expansion, Wollesen’s wide-ranging curiosity, depth of experience, strategic visioning and commitment to community engagement will activate a new future for Ah Haa, according to a school news release.
“Firstly, what I love about the Ah Haa School for the Arts is the name, which expresses that moment of joy when discovery about ourselves happens and possibility is before us,” he told the Daily Planet. “And, of course, with the opening of a new building this summer we will be creating more space, both literally and figuratively, for creative exploration in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Who wouldn't be excited to be a part of that?”
The Ah Haa School will be opening its brand new 10,000-square-foot school on the corner of West Pacific Avenue and South Fir Street in the Silver Jack building. The Ah Haa space will feature a children’s art studio, exhibition gallery, teaching kitchen for the culinary arts, a rooftop area and other communal spaces.
With the Ah Haa project in the pipeline, Kohin decided to continue her role as Ah Ha head, but she has said she’s looking forward to passing the baton to Wollesen.
“I’m really excited that given the nearly 30 years I’ve put into the Ah Haa School, I can turn over this incredible facility with new leadership, an enthusiastic staff, an incredible board of directors as a gift to the community,” Kohin previously told the Planet.
Wollesen previously provided executive, strategic and artistic leadership at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, where he oversaw the prestigious Artist Partners Program in presenting national and international artists in music, dance and theater. He inaugurated the NextNOW Fest, an annual multi-day student arts festival of creativity, as well as a series of “Satellite Arts Partnerships” with local arts and social services organizations that provided opportunities for local artists to create and engage with underserved communities. He renovated and opened, in partnership with the local community, a restaurant, bar, gallery and performance space; the only public-private venue of its kind associated with a university campus.
Wollesen also founded ArtPower! at UC San Diego, a performing arts series presenting international contemporary dance, jazz, global music, and classical and contemporary chamber music. He envisioned and collaboratively created a new campus venue, The Loft, a performance lounge, gallery, restaurant and wine bar where “emerging art and pop culture collide,” the first venue of its kind on a college campus. He inaugurated the ArtPower! Film series, which was voted Best Film Festival in San Diego, Wonderland International Contemporary Dance Festival, and Innovator-in-Residence Project connecting artists and scientists through creative exploration. Wollesen also provided creative leadership at Stanford Lively Arts (Stanford University), Arts & Lectures (University of California, Santa Cruz), and Santa Cruz Parks & Recreation in several roles serving youth, teens and adults.
“We are so thrilled to have the creativity and experience Marty brings to Ah Haa School for the Arts at a significant moment of transition and growth for us as we prepare to launch a new future with the summer opening of our new building in the heart of downtown Telluride,” Ah Haa Board President Richard Cornelius said in the release. “And we are deeply grateful to Judy Kohin for her enduring leadership that has built Ah Haa into the beloved community resource that it is today. We look forward to being a part of her new chapter in Telluride.”
Wollesen was one of two finalists who were invited to visit Telluride, though interest in the position was truly global, Cornelius explained.
“We were blown away by the number and caliber of candidates we received for our executive director position,” he previously told the Planet. “We had over 50 candidates apply from all over the U.S. and from a few foreign countries.”
Aside from his extensive experience, Wollesen brings a revitalized energy and passion for the arts to town, which will be instrumental in leading Ah Haa into its next phase as a local arts institution.
“I believe in the power of imagination and that creativity is core to the human spirit,” Wollesen said. “Ah Haa School for the Arts recognizes that everyone has something exciting to learn and something significant about themselves to share with others. I am very excited to join a team of artists, staff and community supporters who are actively nurturing the artistic soul of Telluride. Let’s have fun.”