April 12, 2021

Lyme Academy Enters New Era, Names Mora Rowe as Executive Director to Launch Programs, Re-engage With Community

Mora Rowe is the new Executive Director of Lyme Academy of Fine Arts.

OLD LYME — Lyme Academy of Fine Arts (LAFA) in Old Lyme is on the brink of an exciting new era — and yet, at the same time, it is, in essence, a renaissance of the principles on which the Academy was founded.

After 18 months of strategic planning and a recent change in leadership on the board of trustees, the LAFA Board of  Trustees has structured a new plan reflective of the Academy’s original mission and hired both an Executive Director and an Artistic Director in anticipation of reopening with new programming in September 2021.

On Feb. 8, 2021, Mora Rowe joined Lyme Academy as Executive Director for the school. Most recently, she served as the director of economic development for the City of Auburn, Calif., and was previously the executive director and chief executive officer of Placer County Visitors Bureau in Auburn, Calif. She relocated to Essex in December 2019. 

Rowe spoke with LymeLine yesterday saying, “It’s been a wonderful, though somewhat exhausting, week. The staff has done a fantastic job [during the period since the University of New Haven withdrew from its relationship with LAFA], but now we will be working rapidly to reengage with our stakeholders and the community. We are fortunate to  have an active, passionate board that is ready to go.”

Asked how she felt about her appointment, Rowe responded, “I am honored and excited for the role,” adding that she was eagerly looking forward to, “Implementing the Board’s plan for LAFA and supporting the artistic vision of our new Artistic Director, Jordan Sokol.” 

She added, “I have many ideas for community engagement and look forward to working with the other established organizations in the region.” 

In terms of her management style, Rowe explained, “I’ve always looked at management and leadership as a servant role,” noting, “Instead of people working to serve a leader, the leader works to serve the organization.”

The Board has developed a 10-point manifesto for, “The revival of the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts as it plans for its 50th anniversary in 2026,” said Michael Duffy, who was elected board chair in December. 

The plan includes adhering to the mission of founder Elisabeth Gordon Chandler, an acclaimed sculptor, who founded the school in 1976 based on her philosophy that artists needed to be educated in the fundamentals of representational and figurative art forms, a curriculum she believed was in danger of disappearing in contemporary art education.

“There is a need for Lyme Academy’s mission today, as an academy, not a college,” said Duffy.  These are the first two points of the manifesto and reflect the board’s desire to reestablish the academy model at LAFA rather than an accredited College.

A delighted Duffy, who lives in Old Lyme, commented on Rowe’s appointment, saying exclusively by email to LymeLine, “[She] is exactly the right person to lead the Lyme Academy: she is hard-working, brimming with ideas and passionate about the Academy’s mission.”

He expanded on that mission, saying, “Our vision is that by Lyme Academy’s 50th anniversary in 2026, it will be known nationally and internationally for the excellence of its teaching and that it will once again become a beloved and vibrant hub of the Old Lyme community.”

Duffy concluded, “Working with our Artistic Director, Jordan Sokol, Mora’s leadership will help to bring that vision to life.”

Laura Lee Miller of Lyme, LAFA Board of Trustees Vice Chair, continued Duffy’s positive theme in an email saying enthusiastically, “With energetic new leadership and a fully engaged Board of Trustees, Lyme Academy of Arts is prepared to relaunch with robust art programming in fall 2021 and with a renewed commitment to the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme and our cultural partners in the community.”

She added, “We want to re-activate our campus as a center of fine arts education and a community hub and we welcome ideas from our neighbors in Lyme and Old Lyme.”

Lyme Academy of Fine Arts is entering an exciting new era with the appointment of Executive Director Mora Rowe and Artistic Director Jordan Sokol. File photo.

The new LAFA program will look to enroll full-time students each year in what is expected to be a two-year core program. As the exact programming evolves, the tuition will be determined.  

Other goals in the manifesto include “serving the needs of many kinds of students,” which will include young artists programs and classes open to the public, reconnecting with the Academy alumni and investing in career development for graduates of the Academy. 

Rowe added, “We are interested in ideas and activities that could transform the LAFA campus into a vibrant community hub. This might include a seasonal Farmer’s Market, concerts on the green, or an invitation to read a book while sitting in one of our colorful Adirondack chairs on campus. There are so many possibilities for our campus in town.”

Standing together in the Sculpture Studio at Lyme Academy are noted painter Jordan Sokol (right) and his wife, Amaya Gurpide, an acclaimed artist. Sokol is the new Artistic Director and Deane Keller Chair at the Academy and Gurpide will serve as the Academy’s Director of Drawing. Photo by Rick Lacey III.

Jordan Sokol, a painter, is the newly appointed Artistic Director for the school, and his wife, artist Amaya Gurpide, will serve as the director of drawing at the school. The couple have a four-year-old son and have relocated to Old Lyme from Jersey City where Sokol served as academic director of The Florence Academy of Art and also an adjunct professor at the New York Academy of Art.

Sokol said that when he was a student, the model of an academy — as opposed to a college — fulfilled the type of education for which he was looking. Having  studied at the Florence Academy of Art in Florence, Italy, and taught there after he graduated. he noted, “I find that a lot of my students are not interested in the degree, they’re interested in learning how to paint so that they can pursue their dream and so [a degree] is not as important as the skills they acquire.”

Rowe added that the academy model reflected trends in the marketplace. “So many industries are going back to the crafts and trades, learning a set of skills,” she said. “This is foundational, and I don’t think that goes out of style. It is becoming more popular and it is more affordable.”

She concluded emphatically, “The fact that you are working with exceptional artists in their own right — I don’t think that’s a hard sell.”

About the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts: Founded in 1976 by esteemed sculptor Elisabeth Gordon Chandler, the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts is located in historic Old Lyme, CT, which has been a vibrant center for the arts and artists in Southeastern Connecticut for more than 100 years. Lyme Academy upholds the standard of a Classic Fine Arts education offering a variety of programs under the guidance of master artists, who share a deep respect for both traditional and innovative forms of teaching. The Academy has been providing students with the necessary foundation and skills to develop their own unique visual expression for nearly 50 years. 

Lyme Academy of Fine Art is located at 84 Lyme Street, Old Lyme, Connecticut.

For more information about Lyme Academy’s past, present and future, visit lymeacademy.edu or call 860.434.5232.

Editor’s Note: This article is based in part on a press release issued by Lyme Academy of Fine Arts.

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