Sarah Dresser, City of Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs manager, has always been interested in the arts and sees the value art brings to a community. She did not anticipate going into city government, but when a position opened at the Office of Cultural Affairs, she found it to be the perfect fit. Nine years later, she continues to make an impact on Columbia’s community.
Dresser talked with us about how she brings the community together through the arts into a cohesive melody. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What are you working on now at the Office of Cultural Affairs?
What we’re in the middle of right now is the new Columbia airport terminal. That’s the biggest project budget that we’ve had for over 10 years. I’m really excited to see that come to completion and be another great addition to our city’s collection of public art. Then we also have a handful of other public art projects happening right now. It’s a lot of balls in the air, which is one of the things I really like about my particular job and working for the office.
How have the arts in Columbia changed over your time at the Office of Cultural Affairs?
There’s been a lot of new arts agencies forming. We have a new book festival; we’ve seen some of our festivals and organizations grow; new theater companies have started and new galleries have opened. There’s growth here. I think that speaks to Columbia’s need for our office. We’re welcoming of growth into those new ideas that our community brings forth.
What got you interested in the arts?
I grew up in a family that values the arts and personal expression. From a really young age, I was involved in dance and music. I was interested (in piano) as a small child, but whenever my mom would ask about lessons, I just blew her off. One day in second grade, the piano teacher showed up in my class and said, “Come with me, it’s time for your lesson.” I had no idea. I got home and asked my mom, “You know I have piano?” And she goes, “Oh, yes. You’re enrolled now.” I think I saw the potential there, and I ended up majoring in piano performance for undergrad.
What do you value about the arts?
I really love challenging myself. You really discover a lot about yourself, and even as an audience member, you learn about other people and experiences and cultures. It really is helping to break down barriers, to know people’s differences, hopefully, opening eyes in the community.
Is there anything you’d like to say to the community or those who nominated you?
I love living in Columbia because we’re a creative community. I encourage everyone to get back out there to attend events and to provide art and to support those organizations and those artists who I think had a really hard last 18 months. And really, for us to rebound and to continue to rebuild and for people to move forward, it takes us as community members to go out there and to support those initiatives. Especially as we’re going into 2022, the next 10 years, that is going to be really important. It’ll keep Columbia creative, and it will be that place that people want to live and people will want to visit.