Arts leader Richard Colvin prioritizes community, growth and return of favorite festival

From left, artist Semeion Richardson, the CEO and founder of Artist with a Purpose, meets with Leesburg Center for the Arts Executive Director Richard Colvin and Artist with a Purpose assistant director Belina Wright.

From military brat to Renaissance Man, Richard D. Colvin has lived a full life, painting, teaching, leading museums and arts organizations, and even rocking an electric guitar, before his recent appointment as executive director of the Leesburg Center for the Arts.

Colvin, 66, is a lifelong artist and arts leader. He took the helm at the center officially in January (after helping out in an interim capacity) when former director Maria Stevanovic resigned late last year.

“We’re in kind of a rebuilding process,” Colvin said. “Because we had a lack of resources, we weren’t able to put on the art festival in 2023.”

His eyes brighten while chatting up the return of the 47th annual Leesburg Art Festival this spring, which will take over Main Street on March 2-3.

“We are going to have a few food trucks and some music,” he shared. “There will also be a fairly good-sized component of literary arts, organized by the Leesburg Public Library.”

Indeed, the “arts” — plural — portion of the festival’s name will be represented by visual artists, poets, musicians and performers.

As for the painters, printmakers, sculptors and mixed-media artists: “I’m going to try to cap it at around 75 artists,” Colvin explained, “so it’s not going to be too big and sprawling, but I also want to make sure that it is of benefit to our downtown businesses.”

Finding that sweet spot between impressive variety and sensory overload is important to Colvin. He is all too aware of how challenging it can be to attend a crowded, poorly organized festival.

“Because I grew up in Winter Park, I can tell you that the art festival there is just as crowded as Mount Dora’s,” he said. “I would go with my best friend. He is 6-foot-5. We’d walk down the middle of the street and I’d say, ‘Look in the booths!’ … I said, ‘If it looks good, then we’ll go in.’ I couldn’t see anything. I had all these people in the way. (laughs)”

A disarming sense of humor lightens Colvin’s psychological load. “I’m part Irish and have a terrible temper I have to manage,” he shared. “I try to be mindful, but it’s a challenge on a daily basis. The good part is, I really love art and it has been my privilege to be around so much of it during my career.”

He was born in Olathe, Kansas, and his family moved to Central Florida in the 1960s. He has shown his illustrations, wood-cut prints and impressionistic paintings, and judged art shows across Florida and the U.S.

Before his semi-retirement, Colvin taught and led artists as a program director at the Mount Dora Center for the Arts (2019-21). Before that, he served as executive director of the Lake Eustis Museum of Art (2012-18) and was curator for the Maitland Art Center (1998-2010).

Richard Colvin, left, performs with Rob Reedy in the duo Rust Bucket.

His passion for building the arts keeps him going as the Leesburg Center for the Arts’ executive director. He believes firmly that visibility by way of public art and community participation helps form the identity of a city.

“We’ve got so many more people creating art and they’re all doing their own things,” he said. “There’s been a growth of art culture in The Villages, and more has been going on in the nonprofit area, too. We’ve got the Mount Dora Center for the Arts, and we’ve got the Lake County Art Museum in Tavares, and here at the Leesburg Center for the Arts — we’re all working on our own mission, which is to grow art in our community.”

These days, Colvin is especially excited about a new Art U program for teens 14-18, which will be featured along with the ongoing program for younger children.

“Because a lot of the older kids are so fascinated by anime and various forms of digital art, I feel like we need to serve that interest also,” he explained.

Lake Medical Imaging donated the computers, he explained. “The workstations will be coming in within the next few weeks,” Colvin added, “and we moved the library so I’d have a place to put them. We’ve also got a couple of lines on some people to teach it. It’s a new wrinkle for us in our art curriculum.”

In addition to its 2-D art classes, the center will offer clay art classes and has started a GoFundMe page to replace its old kiln.

Popping in on Colvin during a typical workday, you would think he had just arrived home from a cruise. He is soft-spoken but a tad wily, quick to dispatch a deadpan zinger or self-deprecating bon mot.

Previous coverage:Former executive director of Leesburg Center for the Arts accused of stealing from group

Within an hour of our visit, Colvin did office work, helped dismantle an exhibit and met with artist Semeion Richardson, the CEO and founder of Artist with a Purpose. Richardson and the gallery’s assistant director/Haitian contemporary artist Belina Wright visited the arts center to discuss an upcoming pop-up art event geared for children from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Rogers Park on Sept. 23 and Leesburg’s first-ever Haitian cultural festival in February.

When he isn’t working in the arts center or on visual art, Colvin shifts to a more rock ‘n’ roll persona.

“I’ve been playing guitar and singing since I was in high school in a variety of garage bands,” he reminisced.

“Currently, I play in a duo named Rust Bucket with my friend Rob Reedy. We play jobs all around Central Florida, especially in art venues, because we’re both artists and teachers. On Fridays at noon we have an acoustic jam session here at Leesburg Center for the Arts, open to the public. All are welcome.”

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