Note: an abridged version of “Teaching Moments” from this interview, conducted by our former intern Lindsay Sheridan, was published in Arts Link, the quarterly membership publication of Americans for the Arts. John Davis is the Executive Director of Lanesboro Arts Center.
LINDSAY SHERIDAN: What is your personal arts history and educational background?
JOHN DAVIS: From a very early age, my mom was supportive of my interest in the arts. We lived in Minneapolis, and I grew up with her taking me to all the museums there. I went to college at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, so my background is in fine art and design. I studied graphic design and industrial design, but ended up taking classes in painting and sculpture. I pretty much love all aspects of the arts.
SHERIDAN: Is there an arts leader or community advocate who helped you hone your interests at a young age and develop your own career?
DAVIS: In college I took a class on creative problem solving, and my professor was a man named Jerry Allen. I began using the principles he taught us as an approach to community development and arts administration years later in my career. I think that class and that professor were really pivotal for me. He taught us that anything was possible, and that mindset, especially when working in a rural area, is extremely valuable. Professor Allen is definitely the first person that comes to mind when I think of people who have helped me develop a leadership philosophy.
SHERIDAN: What drove you to want to become community advocate?
DAVIS: Living in a small town, one tends to be more aware of the need for advocacy. After 25 years of living in rural communities, it’s not really a choice–one has to be an advocate. I think what that means is speaking out for others in the community and giving them a voice. It means advocating for accessibility, advocating for innovation, and advocating for the recognition that there’s value in your community, no matter what size it is. And I believe that really translates from rural small towns to metropolitan big cities.