Shawna Johnson appointed as Access Arts executive director

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 | 7:00 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Art has always been a part of Shawna Johnson's life, though she struggled with the idea of pursuing a career in the arts. 

"You are not going to get rich being an artist," Johnson said.

But, in the end, she decided that her passion for the arts trumped all else. 

"I had to figure out what was important, and I knew life would not be what I wanted if I was not working full time in the arts," Johnson said. "If you go to work every day and it's not fulfilling, you are going to get bitter."

Last week, Johnson became the new executive director of Access Arts, a program through the School of Service. Founded in 1971, the School of Service is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that offers arts classes to anyone in Columbia.

Access Arts provides a range of classes using a variety of art media at different skill levels. Classes range from a beginning children's level to a professional level of instruction, and the school also provides special needs art classes. Some courses offered through the program include pottery and weaving as well as three or four other media classes that change each session. 

As executive director, Johnson oversees all of the school's programs, serves as the liaison between the staff and the board of Access Arts and is in charge of securing funding and writing grants.

Before hearing about the job opening for executive director, Johnson said she did not have much knowledge about Access Arts. 

When she attended MU as an art student, she used to rent studio space from Access Arts to create pottery. She also knew people who were involved in the program and learned of its importance. 

It wasn't until she was living in New York City, working as a studio assistant and bookkeeper, that she learned more about Access Arts. She rediscovered the group while looking for a job that was closer to her family in southern Missouri. She said she was drawn to the organization because it provides a service that no one else in the community provides. 

"Most schools do not have a focused arts program," Johnson said. "At Access Arts, children can focus on one type of art making, and you don't see that in a community like Columbia." 

Johnson said that not only does Access Arts provide a unique service, but it's important that these services are affordable.

"The only other place offering this kind of quality instruction are college classes," Johnson said. "We do it in an economical way." 

Prices for a six-week session range from $75 to $125. Access Arts also has scholarships available for those who cannot afford classes.

Johnson's future plans for the program include expanding and becoming a financially self-supported organization. 

"I see it becoming bigger because we have a lot of room that we are not utilizing," Johnson said. "Ten years from now I would love for us to be financially stable, which means self-supported."

Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.

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