‘Tis better to have lost Love, than never to have Love at all!’

CAMBRIDGE — After 10 years as head of the Dorchester Center for the Arts, much-loved and well-named Mickey Love is moving on to face a new adventure. Thursday was Executive Director Love’s last workday on the Eastern Shore. At a farewell gathering on Saturday evening, she collected official proclamations of appreciation and also expressions of deep affection from supporters of her vision. She leaves behind a legacy of growth and accomplishment at the DCA, measured not only by square footage, but also an increase in programs and participants.

The starting point for Mickey Love was her arrival 10 years ago at 120 High St., the house the Dorchester Center for the Arts called home. It had 2,200 square feet of space and was inadequate for the vision shared by the new director and the board who hired her.

The gallery space and classrooms were too small and a move was imminent. Mickey smiles as she recalls “a pumped-up leadership” which included George Fox, Graham Slaughter, Alicia Hoffman, Donna Towers, and Dave Wallace. She was thrown into a nest of “warm, caring, wonderful people,” whose enthusiastic commitment undoubtedly mirrored her own.

Mickey Love does not paint or sculpt. She jokes that ”My own visual arts career peaked in kindergarten at age 5. I did a great painting that warranted a trip to the principal’s office to be praised.” And that was the beginning and the end of her visual arts career, which in fact, broadened her view. Mickey’s artistic talent blossomed in singing, piano, and theater. In Cambridge, she oversaw the creation of a beautiful performance area on the upper floor, the George B. Todd Performance Hall and music and theater flourished on both floors of the DCA. The renovated second floor is also used as a rental space by local groups.

“The arts are not just visual arts; performing and literary arts matter too,” she explains, proud that she brought a variety of music to delight the Cambridge audience. The internationally renowned gospel group, The American Spiritual Ensemble, Daryl Davis, the Mid-Atlantic String Quartet and the Baltimore Mandolin Orchestra were some of the recent major performances. Cookie Brohawn’s beloved Chorus of Dorchester also found a home here. Well-known visual artists in the gallery included sculptor Mark Schwenk and modern artist Chris Carter, who also taught a workshop at the center, sharing her talent.

Without a doubt, Mickey Love’s administrative skills, honed at other jobs in the not-for-profit world, were also needed to lead the art center through its growth. Leaving the boxed-in quarters of High Street to transform the present building is the two million dollar highlight of Mickey Love’s legacy. Dorchester County has an art center envied by other Arts Councils on the Eastern Shore, some who have no building at all.

The launch was not easy; it was a physical and fiscal challenge. Creating classrooms, installing an elevator mandated by law, even replacing a leaking roof, which unfortunately dried up funds, required a treasure hunt for grants, bonds and a capital loan. It also required community fundraising which Director Love and board members successfully accomplished. You can see the many names of generous donors that decorate the lobby tree.

In spite of setting goals and then meeting them, there’s nothing self-aggrandizing about Mickey Love. She freely shares the credit with donors, board members, volunteers, and staff who agree she led the charge with grace and laughter. But her 10-year tenure has been a personal odyssey also. “I arrived at the low point in the national economy to face a unique set of challenges. I left a land-locked environment to a place surrounded by water.” It was a wonderful opportunity to learn to appreciate and live alongside a different setting, a new beauty of marshes and rivers, eagles and herons, a beauty reflected in the paintings, the photographs, and the carvings created at the center.

Progress has been notable. Mickey says, “It is satisfying to see one woman’s pride in her first show, another’s excitement at her first sale, and one knitter’s joy of creating sweaters for her grandchildren.” Also important to her are the people who walk into the gallery or the DCA shop and see how art can fit into their lives. The director has promoted the arts in many ways, including her columns in local newspapers and her witty, weekly radio program, cleverly titled with a fitting double-entendre, “A Love of the Arts.”

The reality of personal challenges has brought the Dorchester County stage of Mickey Love’s career to an end. She calls the new direction she’s taking “a bittersweet decision” and at the same time “a tremendous opportunity.” She’s leaving Cambridge to fill a new position with the University of Maryland Extension in Westminster. Covering three counties, Carroll, Baltimore and Harford, she’ll be using her honed skills to supervise matters of personnel, publicity, master gardeners and 4H clubs. “Agriculture may seem a very different form art, but the management skills are the same ones I have used here,” explains the director. At this time of life, she sought a future that offered an attractive salary, and security, plus pension, and health benefits. One more important attraction is geography. The new job offers proximity to her family in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and that includes the new granddaughter!

The contrasts from one position to the other are interesting. Carved decoys give way to real ducks and chickens, painted still life gives way to live growing squashes and flowers, and fundraising gives way to raising 4H prize pigs. With her lively intellect and broad range of interests, we can be sure Mickey Love will enjoy the new challenges. (Wishing you well, Mickey, we hope to catch you at a County Fair.)

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