It look's like you don't have Adobe Flash Player installed. Get it now.
Springfield native Leah Hamilton Jenkins gives back to the community as Executive Director of Springfield Regional Arts Council.
SOC THUR AM 12-9-2010
RANDY: She’s not yet 30 years old, and she’s been named to GO Magazine’s “20 Under 30” list and Springfield Business Journal’s “40 Under 40”... she’s a very fine classically-trained mezzo-soprano...and she’s the Executive Director of the Springfield Regional Arts Council. She’s Leah Hamilton Jenkins, and you’ll meet her this morning on the KSMU Sense of Community series. LEAH: I grew up in a very artistic home. I was lucky to have that exposure at an early age. My father, even though he’s a local businessman, is a guitar player, and he loved--we’d listen to things from Little Feat to Randy Travis to Eric Clapton. So from a very young age I was taught how to play musical instruments, and we sang.RANDY: But not necessarily opera, at least until high school.LEAH: I had a really wonderful high school conductor, Jonathan Owen at Kickapoo High School, and he kind of picked my voice out as a Junior and had me audition for, I think it was District Choir. And I ended up getting the top score in the whole district! And that was when he said, “You know, maybe you should start thinking about taking voice lessons.” I hadn’t even thought about that because I was a piano player. So I started, and before I knew it I thought, “Oh, this is really fun!” And because I was never a real fantastic dancer, I got into more of the opera world of vocal music--RANDY: As opposed to musical theatre.LEAH: Right.RANDY: You went on to University of Kansas, and from there you spent some time at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Was that a scholarship sort of thing?LEAH: It was. There was a wonderful tenor at KU that had gone to the Royal Scottish Academy, and so I was already familiar with their program over there--although my last name is Hamilton, so--my great-grandmother was born in Scotland. But the Rotary does an “Ambassadorial Scholarship” program, and the state of Missouri gives between one and three every year.RANDY: So Leah applied for, and received, a one-year Ambassadorial Scholarship of $25,000 to study vocal recital and opera repertoire at the Royal Scottish Academy. She was invited to continue her studies there, but the scholarship money was running out, and at any rate Leah had developed a strong interest in teaching, and in the business and administrative side of the arts.LEAH: I noticed that I really loved writing reports, doing research--things that a lot of singers go, “I’d rather just be on stage,” you know? And I really wanted to look into more of arts administration before I took the big leap of spending more money getting a degree just in vocal music.RANDY: Needing to “center” herself and figure out what road she was going to take, Leah moved back to Springfield... and you might say serendipity took over.LEAH: I moved home, and within two weeks my mother had made a connection to somebody, and they said, “Hey, there’s a position open at the Arts Council.” So I applied, and I got the job.RANDY: What was your first job there?LEAH: It was the “Administrative Assistant” job. I was the front desk greeting people, saying hello... but as with any non-profit organization, “working at the front desk” means you’re doing 20 other things!RANDY: You were a warm body they could use!LEAH! Right. It was like, all of a sudden I was doing marketing, I was helping with the facility, I was helping with the Education program. So I wore many hats at that point. Within a year and a half, I moved into being the Education Director.RANDY: Which was a natural fit, because at KU Leah had had a double major, in Vocal Performance and Music Education. Well, after about two years the Arts Council’s Executive Director resigned, and Leah Hamilton, at age 27, was named Interim Executive Director of Springfield Regional Arts Council.LEAH: I’m now on my second year, the “Interim” now being removed from my title.RANDY: You passed the audition, in other words!LEAH: Yeah, yeah! But you know, I had made so many connections in the community actually as a performer, I’d done so much and had built a lot of these relationships which, now that I’m the Director of the Arts Council, I’m realizing how important those relationships are--and building them even before I stepped into the role.RANDY: Helping create a better community: how do the arts do that?LEAH: (moans) Oh, how much time do we have, Randy?! For me, there are so many things regarding some of the biggest red flags in our community right now: poverty; civic engagement; regionalism; and diversity. Those seem to be the biggest themes that we should do better as a community to continue to grow. When I see those, I go, “YES!” because the arts play such a huge role in every sector of that.RANDY: Leah is married to Skinny Improv founder Jeff Jenkins.LEAH: We actually met at a wedding, which is--how more cliché can you get than that, especially for two--RANDY: Two single people, yeah! (Leah laughs)LEAH: Being both artists, we understand and appreciate each other’s passions, and know that sometimes it does take you away at night. We respect each other and appreciate what takes that time away from us being together. So it works. We’ll have a very fun life--I feel very, I guess, blessed, if you want to say that.