by jan sjostrom
Two new Armory Art Center hires will step into positions pivotal to the organization’s goals of professionalizing its operations and increasing enrollment.
Talya Lerman, currently the Norton Museum’s tour and volunteer coordinator, will start work Oct. 17 as director of education. Lauren Clay, who was an artist in residence at the Armory during the 2007-08 season, will take over Oct. 26 as head of the ceramics department.
Lerman will be responsible for overseeing the curriculum and a staff of two full-time and 45 adjunct instructors and five artists in residence at the 25-year-old nonprofit visual arts school in West Palm Beach.
Lerman, 31, lives in West Palm Beach, where she was born and raised. After graduating from Dreyfoos School of the Arts, she pursued jobs rather than higher education. “I’m pretty heavy on experience,” she said.
She worked as a gallery director, a curatorial assistant and exhibition and program coordinator for the defunct Palm Beach Institute of Contemporary Art, an administrator for a private art collector, and an executive assistant for the Lake Worth Chamber of Commerce before joining the Norton staff.
At the Norton, she supervised more than 300 volunteers and expanded the volunteer base by 60 percent. Lerman fulfilled her responsibilities “with humor, warmth and distinction,” said Glenn Tomlinson, the Norton’s education curator.
She’s also a collage and installation artist and runs a side business operating art and team-building workshops and organizing exhibitions and other art events.
She did return to school, though, and will finish a degree in business administration in December at Northwood University in West Palm Beach.
Sandra Coombs, the Armory’s chief executive, preferred Lerman over applicants with strictly museum or art school backgrounds because of her community ties, varied experience and budgeting background.
“That’s no small thing,” Coombs said. “This person is responsible for the lion’s share of the budget here.”
Coombs was looking for someone who could step into her shoes when she wasn’t available and possibly grow into a deputy director, she said.
Lerman has been familiar with the Armory’s programs since she attended summer camp there as a child. “I’m very excited to come on board,” she said. “I believe in their programs.”
Clay — who said her surname proves she was “born under a lucky star” — recently completed a master’s degree in ceramics at Wichita State University in Kansas. The artist, 31, taught frequently at the university and headed a summer youth program at the Ulrich Museum of Art in Wichita.
She remembers her time as an artist in residence at the Armory fondly. “It’s a wonderful community and all the people are lovely to work with,” she said.
The feeling was mutual. “The people who worked with her were impressed with her,” Coombs said.
Ceramics is an important component of the Armory’s curriculum, accounting for 26 percent of adult ?enrollment.
The Armory increased youth enrollment by 26 percent last year, and it has a loyal retiree base. Now it is setting its sights on nudging up working-age adult enrollment.
The new hires already have ideas for how to do that.
Clay said date-night events and classes in stop-motion animated movies featuring clay figures might pique the interest of younger adults.
Lerman suggested taking a more multi-disciplinary approach to programming. “What makes people leave their houses?” she said. “It’s being somewhere where they’re going to get something they’re not going to get at home.”
Both newcomers soon will have the chance to test their ideas at the Armory.