I first met Kristen Holler in her role at the Albany Barn. I have had the opportunity to work with her on projects there and in Schenectady at the Electric City Barn involving ACE! and my own production work with my company 2440 Design Studio. So when I was included on an email from Steve Pierce announcing her new position as Executive Director at the Sanctuary for Independent Media, I immediately knew that this could be a tremendous match for her and the organization. Focused and tireless, Kristen has a deep arts and community background. Though fresh on the job, I wanted to be a part of launching an awareness about her transition and have her share a quick update with us all about the amazing STEAM based approach that the Sanctuary is bringing to a neighborhood community and beyond.
Can you tell us a bit of your background and what you did before this?
Prior to coming to the Sanctuary for Independent Media I was the Executive Director of Albany Barn – a nonprofit org that supports artist development through a wide variety of technical assistance and subsidized/shared resource programs – from 2013 until 2022. In that time I helped to drive the opening of Electric City Barn in Schenectady, and served as a project manager for the Capital Walls public art initiative in collaboration with Albany Center Gallery. My professional background has been almost exclusively in the nonprofit space, but has been a combination of direct service and administrative roles across housing, employment, health, and arts organizations.
The Sanctuary is so many things – from performance art, to science to activism…can you give us an idea of what the main areas of focus will be for you and why this position was attractive to you?
I think the thing that resonates most for me is that although the Sanctuary ‘is so many things,’ each of those things is linked back to the pursuit of social justice, and the use of creativity and independent expression as tools in that pursuit. I had the pleasure of working with and learning from Steve Pierce and Branda Miller – two of the organization’s founders – in my time at The Barn.
It is an honor to step into this beautiful space that they’ve created, to build upon their legacy. My focus will be strengthening continuity and sustainability across the varied initiatives and programs and to provide strategic leadership in a time of transition.
Can you share with us some meaningful ways in which the Sanctuary is making a difference in the lives of those who are in the neighborhood and beyond?
The Sanctuary’s varied programming really provides something for everyone, and the community of individuals who have created and driven this organization forward for the past 20+ years have shown a true dedication to remaining independent from corporate control and responsive to community input.
One of the major ways that The Sanctuary has impacted the immediate neighborhood is through investment in vacant lots and buildings, reactivating them for community use including Freedom Square – a public performance and gathering space; Collard City Growers – a food justice, arts, and permaculture project; NATURE Lab – a community science lab; and People’s Health Sanctuary – a community-led mutual aid health initiative. Another space where I think The Sanctuary has had real impact is in creating STEAM programming where the arts, sciences, and media are not silos, but an intersection of related disciplines where the arts are tools for scientific discovery, the sciences are a tools for creative expression, and media is the vehicle for sharing the process and the outcomes in ways that are accessible to a wider audience. (Editors Note: This!!)
There has also been a consistent effort to develop and maintain strong community relationships with individuals and other organizations through these connections. The Sanctuary has helped to get important community-led initiatives into the media – including stories that depict a more positive image of the N. Central Troy community. Outside of the immediate neighborhood The Sanctuary’s media content and performance series have drawn visitors virtually and in person from other states and countries.
What are the primary funding sources for the organization?
The organization is funded largely by individual donors and sustaining contributors – particularly Sanctuary Radio and Sanctuary TV. Additional funding is provided by NYSCA, DEC, NEA, McCarthy Charities, Howard & Bush Foundation, and The Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region.
Anything coming up on the horizon we should be aware of or keep on the lookout for?
People can tune into Hudson Mohawk Magazine daily at 7am, 9am, and 6pm for independent coverage of local news and topics impacting our Region. The People’s Health Sanctuary will have a series of open houses in the winter and early spring that are in the final stage of scheduling. The Sanctuary will continue with its signature annual events including Freedom Fest in the summer and Story Harvest in the fall. Information on upcoming events can always be found on our website.