After two and a half years as executive director of the South End Arts and Business Association, Lorna-Kay Peal is saying good-bye. Peal turned in her letter of resignation the Monday following the September 10-11 Art Hop. By general consensus, this year's event -- the 12th annual -- was the biggest and best ever, involving 400-some artists, more than 100 businesses and at least 30 volunteers. And in a way that success represented a coming of age for SEABA, a group comprising artists and entrepreneurs along the Pine Street corridor south of Main. Not long ago, "We were a sleepy little organization that people didn't even know produced the Art Hop," says Peal.
That's why one of her first goals was "branding" the signature event: changing the logo, getting a website and pounding the pavement for sponsors to help take the Hop to the next level. Peal did get many more businesses involved, both in terms of financial support and as sites on the Hop. "They all really recognized the benefits of participating in the arts," she says. "That's what has added to its success."
That and a lot of long, underpaid hours -- all year long. Though organizing the Art Hop has been Peal's largest and most visible task, SEABA "is an arts and business association, so I'm constantly working on other projects... to keep our constituents informed," she says. Indeed, the petite, stylish woman with snow-white hair has maintained a presence at other meetings and events in the community. Last year she also joined the board of the Fleming Museum.
But all this work takes its toll. Though Peal is quick to praise SEABA volunteers, hers was primarily a one-woman show. She won't say she's burned out, just that her life lacks balance: "I moved to Vermont to enjoy some of the things it offers, and I don't have time for them," Peal says. "I brought [SEABA and Art Hop] to a place that is what I think they hired me for. Now it's time to pass it on."
"It was hard to hear that," says Mark Stephenson. "She's done a wonderful job; we couldn't have asked for a better person." Stephenson is the proprietor of Vermont Energy Contracting & Supply Corp. and has been chair of the SEABA board since June. "When we interviewed Lorna, the salary was next to nothing, and it was a part-time position," he says. "We had a group with very little experience but good potential.'"
The success of Art Hop two years ago paid for the director's position, Stephen-son says. After this year's Hop, he suggests, sustainability is key. "We need to reassess our goals; I don't think we want to become an organization that puts on the biggest event in Vermont," Stephenson says. "We want to make [Art Hop] better quality, not necessarily bigger."
It's too soon to say what SEABA will look for in Peal's successor -- the board is meeting this week, Stephenson says. "But with an event like the Art Hop that's created as much excitement as it has, putting out a job offer is going to be a lot more exciting."
For Peal's part, she's ready for a fourth career: She worked in gifted education for many years, and was a curator at the Cincinnati Art Museum before taking the position with SEABA. "Coming here and having this opportunity has been phenomenal," Peal says. "I'd like to see what's next for me."
Review copies have arrived for Chris Bohjalian's latest novel, Before You Know Kindness, and it's already garnered glowing blurbs from Kirkus and Barnes & Noble. The 431-page "family saga" is due in stores next month. The Lincoln-based author certainly has a winning way with words: He's got nine novels under his belt -- one of them, the Oprah-sanctioned Midwives, was a New York Times bestseller and was adapted to both stage and screen -- and a book of essays selected from his weekly Burlington Free Press columns. That's why AuthorBytes, a digital PR and marketing company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was astonished to learn Bohjalian didn't have a website. "The reason why," says the author, "was because if you click 'Bohjalian' on Google, 4000 pages come up, and I didn't understand why the world needed one more." Actually, he's being modest -- this week a search spawned 10,500 hits.
Of course AuthorBytes was all too happy to offer its services to Bohjalian, and as a result readers can not only get the usual bio and bibliography on his site (www.chrisbohjalian.com); they can hear him summing up his new novel, as well as last year's essay collection Idyll Banter, on "multimedia book trailers." With a single click, a little faux videocassette package opens up, book-like, an incongruous antenna pops out of its top, and pictures appear to accompany Bohjalian's voice. Following his capsule preview of Before You Know Kindness, he notes, "I had a spectacular time writing this book; I hope you'll have a terrific time reading it."
If it seems a little smarmy, the AuthorBytes signature device likely will be a hit with fans; Bohjalian's popularity with book groups suggests readers enjoy hearing and seeing the amiable author, even if it's in a little box on their computer screen. AuthorBytes must think so, too -- the company's own site presents Bohjalian's homepage as a sample of its wares.