LEWISTON — After a tumultuous year that included the departure of its executive director and the disclosure that it had more than $100,000 of debt, L/A Arts has a new director and new focus. The Sun Journal wanted to learn more about Executive Director Josh Vink and what role L/A Arts will continue to play in the community.

Age: 40

Hometown: Voorheesville, N.Y.

Single, relationship or married? Married

Children? Three

Most people get into arts groups because they have a history of performing, often as a child. What’s your personal art history? I am an actor and a playwright. My mother is a poet and visual artist (painting, drawing), and so I grew up going to galleries and poetry readings. I was more into sports and friends back then, not knowing until later in life that I had learned and been influenced a great deal by these experiences. It was only until I needed the arts that I looked for them, and I found they fit me well. As an artist in New York City, I supplemented my career in the arts by teaching. I worked at public and private schools as a teaching artist, and gradually shifted into administrative roles at nonprofits.

What did you do before coming to L/A Arts? I was an actor on stage, most off- and off-off-Broadway in New York, and a playwright. I worked as a teaching artist at the Lincoln Center Institute and the Dreamyard Project in New York and then director of education at People’s Theatre Project, a nonprofit in Washington Heights.

You previously worked here in L/A Arts’ school program. It’s something that most parents hear about only secondhand through their kids. What are the moms and dads likely missing? I hope L/A Arts will address this question more in the coming years by giving parents and guardians additional opportunities to see their children creating and learning through the arts. If they had a chance to go into an arts residency, they would see their children learning in many different ways, analyzing and discovering, being asked to question what they notice, and to critically think and form their own views. They would see classes that are engaged, working together and making projects with their hands and/or on their feet and expressing themselves. When I have had parents in to see the work, I think they appreciate most how the arts can bring out and make important their child’s individual voice.

How important is bringing the arts into schools? The arts have found themselves pushed to the background in many school districts in the U.S. As we move toward more standardized testing and data-driven outcomes, the open-ended and subjective arts have had less of a place. The biggest question facing arts in education across the country is how can it be shown to have value? I see the strength of the arts in how rich and layered they are. They are an academic subject with their own forms to learn. They also are a way to study other subjects, like social studies and literacy. As for children, their natural abilities as creative thinkers who are open to expressing themselves fits the arts well. This is important because being imaginative and innovative are very similar, and both are roads to students being able to compete in our ever-changing world. The stories in the arts teach children how to see others and the world in new ways and, in turn, themselves.

You’ve inherited a community group with a long history in Lewiston-Auburn, but a troubled recent past. How’s L/A Arts doing now? The 40-year history of L/A Arts has given us the foundation we’ve needed toward almost fully recovering from the financial challenges we have faced. The community, from businesses to individuals (including an anonymous individual sponsor) to foundations, is not only offering financial support but giving us important feedback on the direction of the organization. We are extremely grateful to all that have believed in L/A Arts, and helped bring us back.

What are the pressures on L/A Arts? It is a difficult climate for many nonprofits, and we are not alone in our challenges. We have to stay creatively innovative and practically sound business-wise to ensure success moving forward. Our difficulties have forced us to ask hard questions about what our future place is in L/A. What we’ve come to is a clear vision moving forward, where we are embracing our role as an arts agency foremost, as a support engine working to bolster artists and arts and cultural organizations and arts education, which will develop the next generation.

L/A Arts has been around a long time and tried lots of projects, from free noontime concerts and school shows to after-school programs and dinner theater. What’s L/A Arts’ role in the community? L/A Arts needs to try to make what is does sustainable. That is all. It has to go deeper in the programs it already has and are successful. We can do more than one program well.  We always have. We simply need to recognize that steps and planning need to be taken in all programs that fit in our capacity and fine tune them, build them and make them staples of what our community can come to know and love. I see L-A as a place where the arts are at the center of our cultural life, where music, visual arts, theater and public art installations all contribute to vibrant and revitalized downtowns.

What’s next? After Ice Festival L/A and our poetry program (which is finishing in the schools), we continue work on Arts in Education, including plans for a year-end arts festival of student work. In addition, we are working with artist Charlie Hewitt and both cities in the development of a public art sculpture project, which will bring two pieces to downtown Lewiston, and eventually across the river into Auburn. Finally, we are developing our work with Arts and Culture L/A, (ACLA) and supporting its efforts to foster and market arts and cultural experiences and organizations right here in L-A

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