'It's been such a joy' says Stearns of her 20-year tenure at Historic Holmes Theatre
Though she will be leaving her position as executive director of the Historic Holmes Theatre at the end of July, Amy Stoller Stearns says it wasn't a lack of job satisfaction that prompted her to move on from the job she's held for 20 years. Rather, she's excited by the challenge of taking on a leadership role in a new, soon-to-be-announced local nonprofit.
The advertisement for hiring her replacement may have already been posted, but Historic Holmes Theatre Executive Director Amy Stoller Stearns isn't done just yet.
"There's still a lot of things to wrap up here," says Stearns, who announced on Monday, April 18 that she would be leaving her position at the end of July.
It's a position she has held for just under 20 years, after being promoted from the part-time job of box office manager for which she was hired by her predecessor, Kelly Pratt.
"Midwest Bank (where her husband Mike worked at the time) brought us to town, and I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but this new theater was opening and I thought it would be really interesting to be part of the ground floor of a new performing arts center," she said.
She's been there ever since — and her family has been right there with her for many of the productions and programs she has helped to bring inside its walls.
"Mike and I and our son, Ben, were in the first 'Holmespun Theatre' production here," Stearns said, recalling the original theatrical production that helped launch the theater back in 2002. "Ben celebrated his first birthday on stage."
Both Ben and their second child, daughter Kate, were regulars at the theater during their childhood.
"My kids grew up here," Stearns said. "They would somtimes fall asleep in the theater seats (while watching a show, or a rehearsal), and the ushers would carry them out."
It wasn't a lack of job satisfaction, or boredom, that drove Stearns to try something new.
"I've always loved this job," she says. "It's given me so many great opportunities professionally. Plus, it's been fun, it's been diverse, it's been creative, and it's given our family flexibility while the kids were growing up.
"It's been such a joy to work here, and be part of the magic that everyone's been creating," she said. "It's been wonderful."
And though she's been the "face" of the Holmes Theatre for most of her tenure there, Stearns said, it's far from a one-woman operation.
"It's has been such a community effort," she said. "I've been the lucky person to be the conduit for all the things happening here."
Peter Jacobson, chief executive officer of the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center — which operates the theater — says it's due to the efforts of Stearns and her staff that he expects exciting things for the theater's future.
"As a result of Amy's and others' work over the last 20 years, there's a large group of people who have a real sense of ownership in both the community center, and the theater — and the desire and commitment to make sure it continues to evolve, and grow and change," he said.
"The best legacy I feel I could leave is that this theater would be even better, even stronger after I'm gone," Stearns said.
Though she has indicated that she will be taking on the leadership of a new, local nonprofit once her tenure at the Holmes is finished, Stearns is not quite as forthcoming about what that work will entail.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done behind the scenes before we launch it," she said of the new nonprofit venture. "We don't even have a name yet."
What she does know is that she's not going to be moving very far, at least initially. "My office is going to be on the third floor (of the Holmes Theatre)," Stearns said — in part because she's been asked to provide some temporary guidance for the new director when that person is hired.
"I didn't know what I didn't know," Stearns said of her prior experience when she agreed to take on the executive director's post. "It involved a little bit of blind faith.
"I'm excited to see the skills my successor will bring to the position, which will be different from mine," she added.
What both Jacobson and Stearns would like to see is a person with a strong background in performing arts management, with good business acumen as well as creativity, and "someone who has a passion and commitment to the values of this organization — someone who is committed to working with a team and partnering with other organizations, Jacobson said.