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New Creative York leader: Arts can inspire all

The way Amy Chamberlin sees it, a good business leader is much like the leader of a jazz band.

Both “get everyone together, they set the tempo and say when to go … that leader knows when to hand it off and let you have your solo, and then brings it back to everyone … so something fantastic can be accomplished,” the new executive director of Creative York said.

“That’s what I aspire to,” she added, “recognizing the strengths and abilities that everyone brings to the table and giving them their time to shine, but also knowing that everyone has to come together as a team.”

A native of Leola, Lancaster County who traveled and taught in several other countries before returning to Pennsylvania, Chamberlin begins 2017 as the new leader of Creative York, a nonprofit in the White Rose City that seeks to make the arts and creativity accessible to everyone.

Creative York was formerly known as YorkArts. It was founded in 1990 and was led for years by long-time executive director Kevin Lenkner.

It changed its name following a capital campaign more than a year ago, in an effort to broaden its reach in York County.

“This is an exciting opportunity, because I’ve been a supporter and a patron of this organization for a number of years, because I’ve been really interested in supporting the arts and artists and cultural events going on downtown,” she said.

Creative York emphasizes the special place for creativity in all corners of society, Chamberlin said.

With its main facility along Beaver Street, across from York Central Market, the nonprofit employs four full-time staff people and has a budget of $300,000.

It features three art galleries, art classes for all age groups and several community outreach programs. In the 44-year-old Chamberlin it has a director who sees both the good such an organization can do – and the need to emphasize its positive qualities to the public.

The organization’s best-known initiatives include “Arts in the Park,” an established program that brings interactive art projects to York-area youths in local parks in the summer.

It also organizes lesser-known initiatives like “Art Works,” which provides art classes to York-area youths who are in the juvenile probation system, “to help them move beyond that and be successful,” Chamberlin said.

Chamberlin is a 1990 graduate of Conestoga Valley High School – her father Ron was a middle-school mathematics teacher in the district – and she  graduated from Juniata College with a bachelor’s degree in art history and German. 

She later earned a master’s degree in intercultural relations with an emphasis on nonprofit management from Lesley University, in Cambridge, Mass., where she also became a Boston Red Sox fan.

Chamberlin spent a year in Germany while in college (she’s still fluent in German), and also has lived in France and Poland.

She taught English classes in each of those other countries, and still teaches ESL to parents in York through the city school district.

Chamberlin moved back to Central Pennsylvania in 2000 to accept a job at the York County Literacy Council. She also spent seven years at York’s Crispus Attucks Association, and most recently was interim executive director of the York County Food Bank. She lives and owns a home in York City.

As she begins her new role, Chamberlin wants Creative York to teach those who are in its programs, especially young people, to “problem-solve in a more creative way, think in a more creative way, look at the world in a more creative way.

“Those are the kinds of things I’m most looking forward to in this position … helping us to grow and meet our expanded mission,” she said.

Creative York reaches thousands of individuals of all ages in its programs each year, but Chamberlin, as a veteran of nonprofits, knows that funding always is a top challenge in the sector.

Creative York is fortunate to have strong financial supporters “who believe in our mission and want to see us be successful,” she said, but “the pool of nonprofit organizations keeps growing, and grant-making organizations are shrinking, and the competition for funding is kind of stressful.

“So getting the word out about the good that we do is something we can maybe do a better job of as an organization,” she added.

The $1.3 million capital campaign, which ended a year and a half ago, allowed Creative York to renovate its main facility and also Creative York West, its classroom and gallery space on West Philadelphia Street.

Chamberlin said increasing Creative York’s profile also will help the arts in general, since “sometimes the arts are seen as a luxury or an add-on thing.”

Creative York serves more than 6,000 people annually through its programs, and reaches more than 12,000 people overall in its community exhibits and other efforts.

David O'Connor
Dave O'Connor covers York County, manufacturing, higher education, nonprofits, and workforce development. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at doconnor@cpbj.com.

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