Larry West leads Gorge Arts Council

The Columbia Gorge Arts & Culture Council has a new director. Larry West brings a diverse background in arts, travel and public radio to his new position at the helm of the nonprofit council, popularly known as Gorge Arts.

West takes over from outgoing director Leigh Hancock, who recently had a baby. She will return in January as a part-time grant writer for Gorge Arts.

West will not only head the regional council -- which spans Hood River, Wasco and and Sherman counties in Oregon and Klickitat and Skamania counties in Washington -- but also act as coordinator for the Columbia Gorge Arts in Education program for the three Oregon counties.

"I wear two hats in this position," says West, who also is wearing the hat of new father; his wife, Christy Long, recently gave birth to their first child, Jayden.

West is looking forward to the challenges of his new position guiding the two-year-old organization -- including those inherent in running a nonprofit. One of the first things he plans to tackle is developing membership in the council.

"We're funded heavily on the grant side of it," West said. He'd like to build a membership base spanning the five counties -- something he feels would help the ongoing financial picture of the organization.

West also wants to foster the arts among the various cultures in the Gorge. "I want to make sure we're focused not only on white culture but on some of the other great cultures represented in the area -- like Hispanic and Native American," he said.

One of the main challenges on the Arts in Education side, according to West, is finding ways to extend the influence of the program year-round.

"We have lots of one-time events for teachers," West said. "The challenge is, how do we inspire teachers with creative ideas throughout the year?"

West takes the helm of Gorge Arts at a time when the organization is becoming more visible in the community. The "First Friday" event, a cooperative effort between Gorge Arts and the Hood River Downtown Business Association, has proved very popular in its inaugural two Fridays in September and October. West will continue to put energy into that, as well as other popular Gorge Arts programs like last year's Oregon Symphony program and the annual Beargrass Writer's Workshop.

But West has already begun brainstorming on new ideas for Gorge Arts-sponsored projects.

"I have a lot of irons in the fire in each county," he said. "I'm just thrilled to be involved with this. I'm enjoying it like crazy."

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To reach Larry West call Gorge Arts at 387-5031, or e-mail

lwest@hoodriver.k12.or.us

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