Niles artist named head of Encore School of the Arts

Published 11:49 pm Friday, October 8, 2010

Kathee Kiesselbach

Kathee Kiesselbach


Niles Daily Star

DOWAGIAC — With four brothers and two sons, no “pink tutus” lurk on Kathee Kiesselbach’s vast resume.

“I didn’t even see pink until I was an adult,” she laughs.

But then Encore School of the Arts’, 405 East Division St., new director of operations is more focused on marketing and devising a strategic plan than dancing.

“She’s a good fit for our community,” Artistic Director Amy Rose said of the Niles resident who grew up in South Bend. “She most recently worked at the Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph and teaches classes at the Box Factory.”

Plus, she worked at the University of Notre Dame — including the seminary — for 37 years and when asked about the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, since her background is in the visual arts Encore wants to offer in the future, mentions she was related to the second visiting author, the late John Updike.

She started with the 2010-2011 season, which runs from September through May.

Student interns help her operate the front desk.

“It’s very similar to what I did before,” Kiesselbach said Tuesday evening as she began her 4 to 9 p.m. shift Monday through Thursday for 20 hours a week.

“At Notre Dame I did marketing and development (and brick wrapping),” she said. “At the Krasl I was the director of marketing and development.”

After being laid off after almost two years at the Krasl, “I volunteered for a while at the Buchanan Art Center, helping them with marketing and development. It’s very exciting because they have their own building.”

“There are all kind of possibilities,” Kiesselbach said. “The board is a great board. They started a music school, so we have voice, piano and guitar now. Eventually, we’ll start a visual arts school as well, which is my area.”

Kiesselbach earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in printmaking from Indiana University decades after she started college, but that worked out well for her because the delay attuned her to the latest digital developments.

“It’s exciting for me to come into a place and do the administration stuff I feel comfortable with, but also to have the possibility of opening up a visual arts school, too,” she said. “That’s really neat. But the thing that drew me to this job is that we have this visionary on the board who said to me, ‘We want to grow this place like crazy and we want you to try all kinds of wonderful new and innovative ways to do that.’ That doesn’t happen very often to an administrator. I was like, ‘Really?’ It’s exciting to be part of a group that feels so progressive, and they’re really growing. They’re concerned about having the place look nice and people feeling comfortable when they come in.”

Encore “took very seriously the things I said,” she felt, because “right now the kind of fundraising they’re doing is the really time-consuming, hands-on selling of mums, candy and bread. But they do already have a donor base. And they also impressed me that they’ve already gotten their feet wet writing grants. We need to start doing an annual appeal that doesn’t just go to the parents.”

This morning she accepted the Pokagon Band’s invitation to attend its dedication tour.

“I’m really excited about that,” she said.

“It’s been so disheartening to see some of my favorite galleries close,” she said of the toll the recession took on the arts world.

“There was a wonderful one in downtown Goshen” that connected to a wine shop,” Kiesselbach said. “You never would have thought that situation would fail, but they went out. Elkhart, with the Midwest Museum of American Art, has been very supportive of the arts. The other one in our area is the Box Factory, where I do some teaching. Printmaking and a few other things.”

In Buchanan she taught batik, which she learned on a trip to Borneo with her husband.

“There are fabulous antique shops,” she said. “I sat on the edge of this river at umbrella tables with buffets of duck and looked out at a palace.”

Kiesselbach continued, “The guy who teaches guitar is from South Bend. The piano teacher and vocalist is a professional. She’s from Niles. These are all people with degrees. Some of the kids come from Kalamazoo. It amazed me.”

“I did have a point of reference” to Dowagiac and the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival “from living in Niles almost 20 years,” Kiesselbach said. “I was very interested in Dowagiac’s festival. At the Krasl we wanted to see if there was something we could do to network with them. I had just started to touch my toes into that when I was laid off.”

Dowagiac’s public sculpture collection “helps bring jobs in,” she knows.

“When the place looks good and you see opportunities to be around the things and people you like, then you want to come and work here,” Kiesselbach said. “When I met Amy and Larry and Sherry (the third director, for finance), I thought, you know, I bet there’s a whole arts community in this little town. I knew David Baker from a long time ago and Bill Rothwell,” who teach at Southwestern Michigan College.

At Notre Dame, which boasts its own multi-departmental literary festival, Kiesselbach remembers seeing Dogwood posters for Dowagiac visiting authors.

Now that she’s here, “One of the first things I want to do is meet the enclave of visual arts people.”

She attended St. Joseph High School “across the golf course” from Notre Dame, so she started pouring coffee at the other SMC, St. Mary’s College, as a sophomore.

“The guy who hired me there, also sent kids to Notre Dame to work at big events,” Kiesselbach said. “We all started out lighting candles for commencement. I even wrapped bricks with tinfoil to go under hot plates. They led me up to a pile of bricks this tall and handed me a roll of tinfoil. This was before chafing dishes.”

While that wasn’t perhaps the most glamorous entree into food service, by 19 she married and advanced to her first fulltime job in the housing office.

“Then I got hired away from the housing office to work in audio-visual,” she recalled. “I got hired away from (A-V) to work in the church for the guy who is now the Bishop of Peoria. Then I had my first son, then my second son, then I was hired by the priests who work at the seminary. I was the den mother at the seminary for 8 1/2 years. I taught faculty how to use 16mm projectors. I was in charge of a whole bunch of students who went out and videotaped Father Hesburgh and audiotaped people. I dispatched equipment. I ran all of the weddings at Sacred Heart for a year, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.”

She started work on her printmaking degree in 1973 after high school, but finished the final few credits in 2005.

“When I went back,” she said, “I learned all of the cool digital processes which didn’t even exist in ’73. The only thing that had to do with art, but was one of the coolest things, after the seminary I was hired at Arts and Letters in the government department, which is now called political science. My boss needed a Web site in three weeks at the very beginning of Web sites. I had no idea, so I taught myself HTML as fast as I could in a couple of nights. I liked it. Then I started teaching myself Photoshop so I could put pictures on the website.

In 2000 she crossed another item from her bucket list by learning wood engraving through a group based in Ann Arbor.

“I learned letter press printing and typesetting, and I also teach posters made from linoleum cuts and the old wood type like they used in circus posters,” Kiesselbach said. ” One of the factories for that type is in Wisconsin. It’s a museum now, and artists can go up there and work with all this all wood type on presses that they’ve gathered. I’ve got all this equipment at home in storage, just waiting for the right place.”