East Falls’ Lorene Cary steps down as head of the Art Sanctuary

Fourteen years ago, Lorene Cary sat next her mother during an event where she was publicly introduced as founder and executive director of Art Sanctuary, Philadelphia’s leading African-American arts and letters organization.

At a Thursday afternoon press conference, she became teary-eyed while passing the torch to newly appointed successor Valerie Gay.

This time it was Gay, the former assistant dean for Institutional Advancement for the College of Education at Temple University, who beamed with joy as she sat beside her mother.

“I am looking forward to enhancing the Art Sanctuary’s already rich contributions to the Philadelphia community,” said Gay, a frequent attendee of Art Sanctuary events who sometimes participated as an artist. “I will seek to leverage what we already know and do well to deepen the impact.”

Looking back

Cary, an East Falls resident, founded Art Sanctuary in 1998 after traveling the country for a publishing house and realizing the lack of art outlets in urban communities.

“I didn’t like the idea that the way you made it as a black artist in America was to leave home,” said Cary who was appointed as a School Reform Commission member in October. “I wanted there to be a place where you could cycle back to your home.”

Cary and Gay will work together throughout the summer and into the fall in order to facilitate a smooth transitional period.

Looking ahead

The change comes as the organization implements a multi-year transitional plan, which includes the purchase of a building that could serve as the organization’s headquarters as well as hiring personnel.

Through a grant from the William Penn Foundation, the Art Sanctuary was able to hire a consultant to better help the staff and board members envision this big change. (Disclaimer: WHYY receives funding from the William Penn Foundation.)

Executive-director applicants were sought through advertisements and recommendations from the organization’s donors, funders and stakeholders.

Gay, who was twice recommended for the position, said she hopes to provide more local schools with artists as well as more mentoring opportunities. Her first day is Monday.

“We are trying to create culture that will allow us to do excellent art so when you make mistakes, the whole culture is there to help you self correct,” said Cary.

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