CAC’s Amy Middleton: Art Makes Us Happy

by Jennifer Sexton-Riley
New Creative Arts Center executive director Amy Middleton. New Creative Arts Center executive director Amy Middleton.

New Creative Arts Center executive director Amy Middleton doesn’t pause for a moment when asked what she would like members of the community to know about the CAC in Chatham.

“I would want them to know that our purpose here is not just to provide art education, but art appreciation to the community,” Middleton said. “It’s this wonderful little gem of a place where people can come in, view art, explore and experience art, and it's super friendly. You don't have to have knowledge of art, you don’t have to know any special language of art or have an art degree to come in here and participate in what we are offering.”

Middleton, an art teacher for 30 years, was working at Chatham Elementary School as an art teacher and instructional aide when she learned that former CAC executive director Angela Zoni Mault was retiring and that the position was becoming available. No stranger to the CAC, Middleton worked as an art teacher in the CAC’s children’s programs and ran the children’s tent for the annual Festival of the Arts. As she examined the description of the newly opening position, she realized that it seemed to encapsulate all of her experience, skill and interests.

Before working as an art teacher, Middleton worked for the First Congregational Church of Chatham, and still does, in a limited capacity, through the month of June.

“I was the Christian education director for the church for 20 years,” Middleton said. “That provided me with experience at a nonprofit, experience working with boards and committees, and experience doing programming. Add to that being a visual artist, working as teacher and art educator, and it covers a lot of what the executive director position at the CAC requires.”

Middleton said she thought it was worth a try to apply for the position, but she didn’t feel a lot of pressure, because she said in all honesty she loved her position at Chatham Elementary School.

“I loved being an art teacher. I loved the principal, the students, the faculty. So it was kind of nice, because I wasn’t putting all my eggs in this basket. I was like, ‘If it works out, it is meant to be. If not, I am still in a wonderful position in school,’” Middleton said.

Middleton found out she had been selected for the executive director position in late January. She began by shadowing Mault, coming into the CAC when she could, on days when it wouldn’t interfere with the teaching position she still held.

“Wednesday mornings were a later day for me at Chatham Elementary, so I came in and shadowed Angela on Wednesday mornings. I started in earnest on Feb. 20, shadowing her full time.”

The difficult part of accepting the new position was leaving her beloved art teaching position behind, and having to tell the children that she was leaving.

“It was right when school vacation started, because we thought it would be good for the children to have a natural cut-off point. Telling them was the worst,” Middleton said. “Dr. Kelly (Chatham Elementary School’s principal) was so fabulous, but I was a wreck. Her response was ‘This makes me so sad, but I am going to look at the positive point of view: the door is opening to the Creative Arts Center for us.’ And sure enough, Chatham Elementary School’s students are coming to the CAC for a field trip.”

Middleton has now settled into her new role at the CAC, and credits much of the ease of transition to both Mault and her dream team, CAC associate director Kaitlyn Rice and administrative assistant Allie Kelley. Mault has been great, Middleton said, and it’s clear her priority is always the good of the CAC.

“She wants to see me succeed and the Center succeed, so she has been a wealth of information and provides me with support. She’s always a phone call away,” Middleton said. “Kaitlyn was executive assistant at the CAC for seven years and is now the associate director. Kaitlyn and Alley have both been incredible, as have all the members and faculty. They are so warm, welcoming and positive. It’s been very easy for me –– a soft landing. Kaitlyn, Allie and I had lunch together last week, and ideas were flowing along with a lot of mutual respect and admiration. We’re a great working team.”

Middleton brings a lot of ideas to her new role as CAC executive director, but said she realizes that she is very new to her position. She is a big believer that you have to settle into an organization and get to know it before you can make changes and additions.

“My work at the church was about community engagement,” Middeton said. “I live here in Chatham, and I love the community. Extending into and involving the community — that’s a piece of it for me. We will have open houses in the near future. Of course, as an educator for 30 years, having children more involved is definitely a mark I will make here. This summer we’ll have Fun Fridays, when kids can come and do some artmaking on the lawn, and we’ll have scavenger hunts to find different things in the artwork.”

Middleton said she also intends in the future to offer programming outside of working hours in the evening for folks who work. She said she understands class times have been tailored the way they have been for retirees, but there are also working people in the community; people with no desire to become a professional artist but who enjoyed taking a class in high school and want to do something creative again.

“We will make that more accessible,” Middleton said. “Art is so great! You can do it your whole life and engage in it anytime. It makes people happy. It’s exciting, and I am so happy to be here!”