The Edmond Sun
Sitting amidst the sun’s bright rays dancing off her office walls filled with artwork from young and old alike, Mitzi Hancuff is herself color personified. Her welcoming smile brightens the darkest corners of any day and her outgoing personality warms visitors passing through the doors.
Hancuff, the executive director of the Fine Arts Institute of Edmond, recently turned in her resignation after 25 years of service to the community.
“It is something about timing in your life,” Hancuff said when talking about her retirement to take place May 17.
The Fine Arts Institute is Edmond’s nonprofit community arts organization offering educational enrichment for adults and children in the visual and performing arts
The FAI is 27 years old and Hancuff has been with the organization for 25 of those years, and she told The Sun she believes this is the right time for her to step down as executive director.
Hancuff said there are three reasons she has decided to pass the paintbrush to someone new.
On a personal level, Hancuff said she wants to spend more time with her family, including her husband and four grandchildren.
“I adore my husband, Carl, whom I have been married to for 47 years, and I want to be able to be with him more,” Hancuff said, “and I want to be able to spend more time with my family here and my family in Atlanta.”
Hancuff doesn’t claim to be an artist; her passion is painting with words.
“I am not artistically talented, but I love to write,” Hancuff said, “and I look forward to sitting down with a cup of coffee and penning my thoughts in the early morning.”
Hancuff said retiring doesn’t mean she won’t be around.
“I plan to be very active in the community,” Hancuff said, “and I will still be here at the FAI on a part-time basis.”
At the same meeting Hancuff turned in her resignation, the Board of Directors voted for her to remain as the Executive Director Emeritus for FAI. They also voted for Shannon Price, who has been with the FAI for 17 years, to take over Hancuff’s duties.
“Shannon has worked closely with me for the past year, and I know I am leaving the FAI in good hands with Shannon, the board of directors and the staff,” Hancuff said.
Hancuff said she has been thinking about retiring since last fall.
“Having the park named in my honor was what started me thinking this may be the best time to step down,” Hancuff said.
Mitzi’s Park had a ribbon cutting Nov. 2, 2012, to celebrate its opening. The additional outdoor space will be used for classroom and theater productions and is adjacent to the FAI.
“Knowing Shannon would be taking over my duties has also been a part of my decision-making process,” Hancuff said. “I have seen Shannon in the classroom teaching, and I have seen her grow as a leader over the years I have worked with her. She is ready to step into the position.”
Hancuff said the qualifications for director of the FAI are numerous and varied.
“The skills for the leader in a nonprofit are all over the place,” she said. “We do anything that needs to be done. I have seen Shannon build relationships, and I am hopeful and confident that support (for FAI) under her leadership will continue.”
Hancuff said her background is in fundraising, marketing and administration, and she graduated with a degree in communications.
Retiring means the freedom to do some things for Mitzi, she said.
“In addition to writing, I plan to travel. I have taken a couple of classes and plan to take more, and I plan to be more active in the Book Club I belong to,” Hancuff said.
She said she plans on being able to spend more time doing the things she loves in an unhurried fashion.
“She must feel incredibly proud of how Edmond residents have started and help the growth of this organization,” said former Edmond mayor Saundra Naifeh. “I am glad to obviously be able to see my friend more often. I take my grandchildren and enjoy the programs and am visually stimulated. It is an inspiring and active kind of place, because Mitzi is that kind of person.”
“It is important for people to know I am not walking away,” Hancuff said. “I am just shifting what I am doing. I still plan to work with FAI and I will have responsibilities.”
FAI began under watchful eye of four moms
Hancuff said FAI started in 1985 when four local mothers felt their children were not getting enough art in their schools. There were two artists, one musician and one mother who was an administrative volunteer who kept an answering machine in her home.
“They will forever be my champions,” Hancuff said.
The organization started in a church and they kept supplies for the program in the trunk of one mother’s car. The first year there were 97 students and last year 2,800 students were taking part in the FAI activities.
In 1988 the organization’s annual budget was $18,000. Today the Fine Arts Institute owns its own debt-free building and park with a budget of more than $500,000.
“In 2004 we moved into our building that is paid for, and every day is just tremendous,” Hancuff said. “We have programs, partnerships and events that are very sustainable. Shannon is very progressive and any changes she decides to make will be for the best.”
Hancuff said her time with FAI could not have been any better.
“The support of the community has been outstanding, and I have had an amazing journey full of pure joy and a lot of satisfaction. I have a smile on my face every day on my way to work.”
Hancuff said she finds joy in everything that transpires at FAI.
“It is the knowledge of the fact that a scholarship child is able to participate in art for the first time or listening to the Youth Corps rehearse each Monday,” she said.
Hancuff’s recognitions and awards are numerous as she has been recognized for her work and named a recipient of the 34th Annual Oklahoma 2009 Governor’s Arts Awards given by the Oklahoma Arts Council. She received Edmond’s Citizen of the Year in 2002, and she was named the Journal Record’s Woman of the Year in 2012.