Elizabeth Fischer, the new executive director of The Writers Place, settles into the coziness of the “castle’s” second floor library during a recent visit.
Judging by the fiery red day planner always in front of her, Elizabeth Fischer looks like someone who has been at the job a long time. Seeing the business cards, to-do lists, and meeting notes stuffed in next to the calendar, it’s hard to believe the new Writers Place executive director has amassed this much information in just thirty days on the job. Fischer came to TWP at the beginning of March. Graduate school was just the latest career challenge Fischer has met in her more than thirty years of professional management, many of which she has spent in the non-profit sector, specifically with Bridging The Gap, Kansas City’s premier environment education and service non-profit.
Asked what has been the biggest surprise of her short tenure, Elizabeth’s answer comes quickly: “The volunteers. I didn’t know how integral our volunteers are to the organization. Every non-profit has them and needs them, but the role they play at The Writers Place is unique. Almost every day I’ve learned of something else we do that comes directly from the initiative of one of our volunteers. An impressive share of them have been with us for decades, and they represent such a wide range of connections throughout the community. That makes us a larger organization than we might seem by traditional measures of staff size or budgets.”
A position with an arts organization might seem like an unlikely choice for someone whose primary experience has been in environmental issues. While she remains personally committed to those areas, she was looking to be reinvigorated professionally when she returned to graduate school, and felt the same way when she took a part-time position with ArtsKC following the completion of her master’s degree in Public Administration in the summer of 2014. In turn, the ArtsKC experience persuaded her to consider The Writers Place. Now, she sees herself as being in exactly the right place at the right time.
“This is a period when Kansas City is looking at the arts in a different way. The new regional cultural plan came from the area’s growing awareness of how art and culture interact with the community and the economy. Creativity and talent drive success in all sectors. This is the perfect time for The Writers Place to renew its place as a valuable regional resource. We have some very exciting partners—the Woodneath Story Center, the RezVets program at Church of the Resurrection, Literacy Kansas City, to name a few. Plus, there are so many other partnerships to explore and programs to design to meet the needs of our community. The possibilities are endless.”
Fischer’s enthusiasm is contagious, but she approaches the future she envisions with clear eyes. Already her appreciation is growing as she learns about the challenges currently faced by writers and the literary arts, and most specifically by The Writers Place.
“We’re challenged by society in general, by our fast and extroverted national persona that values brevity," Fischer says. “Some see it as devaluing writing, but in some ways it is more a shift to different types of writing, and different ways to consume writing. We are challenged as an organization because of where we are in our organizational lifecycle. The Writers Place lost one of its founders last year, Bill Hickok, and it has been a turbulent year of waiting to see where the dust settled from that and other changes.
The Writers Place is now in a phase of rebirth. We have a rich and unique history, and we are both a place and an organization that is special to many people. What a gift it is to have that legacy! Taking those gifts and building on them so that a new generation can take us to new places is what I am interested in seeing happen. I want to continue our ties to everyone who is already part of The Writers Place, while bringing in fresh perspectives and possibilities. I think we are perfectly positioned to do so."