Emily Leiserson - Art Center Director of Development


I believe that everyone has an important story to tell, and that we can’t limit creative expression to only those people with the resources to afford a class at the Art Center. And I believe in places like the Art Center that remind us of the best and most beautiful parts of our community and ourselves. I haven’t always been able to afford classes or equipment to create art on my own; I support now because I want to pay it forward.

It’s too easy in our society to move from one ultimately meaningless experience to the next; we’re worried about income, credit, bills, and long-term goals, and we’re trained to not take advantage of—to not even see—the beauty and the opportunities that are right in front of us. Without a supportive community—a community that believes in you—and without a purpose that gives you meaning and makes you feel like you matter, it’s easy to feel depressed, stressed, nihilistic, or just exhausted.

I believe that as human beings, we all have a fundamental need to see beauty, to share our stories, to learn from the experiences of others, and to create things that matter to the people around us. And I believe that art can do all of that. It’s fulfilling to all of us—no matter how new or experienced—to create something that didn’t exist before. But it also takes courage to keep trying when your efforts are rarely perfect, it takes skills that we often don’t learn or don’t prioritize in school, and it takes a supportive community.

I feel lucky because I learned that lesson and found that community relatively early in my life, in a high school summer art intensive. My classes and critiques were anything but perfect, but the experience challenged me and gave me the courage to believe that I could pursue my dream to use art to bring people together and improve lives.

But that courage, for me, isn’t something that lasts forever or that exists in a vacuum—it has to be renewed by new communities and inspired by fresh ideas.

After pursuing two degrees in art, after studying in Australia and in Africa, I pushed my dream aside because I was too worried about making ends meet and being a supportive partner and family member. I didn’t see a way to have a sustainable income while working in the arts. It probably didn’t help that I graduated just days before the start of the Great Recession, and hiring in arts organizations froze to a near stand-still. But I also allowed myself to become isolated from people who offered opportunities, and my choices led me away from what I truly wanted to do.

A few years ago, I made time to visit an old friend from my high school art program. We ended up at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, where we came across some prints by an artist I attended college with—someone who had many of the exact same opportunities that I had had, but who had prioritized his art career. It was a wake-up call to me that life is short and only affords a finite number of chances.

That’s what brought me to the Art Center.

The first time I stood in the printmaking studio, I smelled the ink and paper and felt like I’d come home. For the first time in years, I felt a sense of possibility and a chance to step outside the confines of practical adult life.

The Art Center has been my home away from home for more than two years now. They’ve been years of transition but years that have made me feel like I’ve come into my own and learned more about who I am and where I want to be. I’m still not perfect at getting into the studios and making art—I still work too many hours and sometimes get scared of what people will think. But now I have two decades of life experience that I didn’t have as a high school artist, and I cannot wait to tell new stories.

I’m not sure that I would be in Indianapolis without a place like this, and I want to make sure that everyone has a chance—sometimes a second or third chance—to come here and put their own creativity to the test.