Janet Teunis: From Artist to Executive Director

Janet Teunis isn’t a new face at LowellArts. She’s been an integral part of the non-profit for a decade, but earlier this year, she stepped into a new role. With the retirement of longtime executive director Lorain Smalligan, Teunis was tapped to take the reins of the arts organization.

Now several months into her new role, Teunis says she is grateful for the dedicated staff and volunteers at LowellArts and looks forward to working with them to build on the non-profit’s reputation as a successful and innovative hub of the arts.

A Career in the Arts

Currently residing in Byron Center, Teunis grew up in Jenison, earned a degree at the University of Michigan School of Art and then started her career as a visual artist. She eventually found herself at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids where she began working in 2000.

“When I started at the UICA, they had just moved into their new facility,” she explains. That facility was located at the corner of Fulton and Division, and there, Teunis says she did “a little bit of everything.”

However, by 2013, she had two kids at home and working at the UICA no longer seemed to make sense. She became aware of a part-time program assistant position at LowellArts and applied.

“It was a little bit of a risk for me,” Teunis says of moving from a large arts organization to a smaller one. But she adds: “It was a really good life choice.”

At LowellArts, Teunis served as the program director, overseeing the myriad of artistic offerings at the organization. She worked closely with then executive director Lorain Smalligan and continues to confer with her today. Although Smalligan has stepped down from the executive director position, she still administers LowellArts’s distribution of mini grants from the Michigan Arts and Culture Council.

“It’s nice to have her still connected,” Teunis says. “She’s made herself available as a resource.” That has helped smooth the transition for the new executive director.

Creating a Solid Foundation

Looking to the future, Teunis doesn’t have plans for any big initiatives or significant changes for LowellArts. Instead, she is taking her time to ensure that the organization has the proper foundation in place before moving on to new projects.

“I want to be careful not to grow too fast too soon,” she says. “My goal is sustainability before growth.”

It took decades to get LowellArts to where it is today, and Teunis is grateful for the hard work of those who came before her. She says the input and passion of volunteers who serve on the organization’s committees will continue to be a driving force in determining how LowellArts grows in the future. One of her goals is to ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of their role and that the nonprofit is structured in a way that invites other people to join and contribute.

Teunis anticipates LowellArts may have a greater reach in the years to come. “I think in the future you’ll see us reaching out farther than Lowell,” she notes. That is, in part, because the UICA recently closed its doors. With the loss of one of the region’s most prominent arts organizations, smaller groups like LowellArts may fill the gaps.

However, for now, there are very few – if any — arts organizations comparable to LowellArts. “I do think it’s very unique,” Teunis says. She adds that an important component of LowellArts is offering programs and opportunities to artists, not just the general public.

Out-of-the-Box Thinking

At the center of most LowellArts activities is its gallery at the corner of W. Main and N. Broadway Streets in the historic downtown.

“Our facility is huge – not physically huge – but very significant because it’s such an anchor on Main Street,” Teunis says. “People are so impressed when they walk in.”

That space poses some challenges though. For instance, LowellArts is limited in the types of theatre productions it can host. However, Teunis doesn’t let those restrictions deter her. “[We] do things a little more out of the box,” she explains. “There is so much potential.”

The organization also isn’t opposed to offering programming off-site, but Teunis wants it to be clear that those events are sponsored by LowellArts. That has proven to be difficult in the past, and she notes that some people still don’t realize that the annual Fallasburg Arts Festival is a LowellArts event.

Another major event for LowellArts is the Sizzlin’ Summer Concerts Series which the arts organization heads up in partnership with the Lowell Area Chamber of Commerce.

Partnerships are important to the work of LowellArts, but Teunis says programs would never get off the ground without dedicated staff and volunteers. She credits them with helping create a quality arts organization that benefits the entire community. That’s a legacy Teunis hopes to continue during her tenure as executive director.

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