SCOTTSBLUFF — Art is an expression of a person and for Western Nebraska Arts Center’s new program manager Stephanie Coley, it was a passion she turned into a career.

Growing up in Gering, Coley discovered at a young age she was interested in art.

“Ever since I can remember, I was writing little scribbles before I could write,” Coley said.

Although she enjoyed being creative on her own time, it wasn’t until her third year at Concordia University when she decided to minor in art.

“My main focus was to be an author,” Coley said. “I’m an author on the side, but my advisor thought it would be a good move to use art as illustration, so I was more marketable after graduating.”

As she began taking art courses, she honed her passion, which has afforded her opportunities to showcase herself and appreciate the artistic beauty of the community.

Prior to working at the art center, Coley was employed at Educational Service Unit 13. While she enjoyed engaging with the public, she still longed to showcase her creative side.

One day, as she toured the art center and admiring artwork, she met artist Mary Hunt.

After meeting Hunt, Coley expressed an interest in working at the art center. While there was not a position open at the time, Coley began volunteering her time to help with shows and receptions.

“I wanted to get more experience being creative with my art,” she said.

Several months later with snow on the ground and school canceled, Coley and her sister decided to walk through the Bronson Gallery and see what artwork was on display.

“Michelle came up to me and asked if I’d be interested in the program manager,” Coley said. “I said yes.”

Michelle Denton said Coley is a vibrant, compassionate woman who brings energy and an inquisitive mind to the art center.

“I have enjoyed her as a person already and the arts center is blessed by her new perspective,” Denton said. “As an artist and writer she will be able to lead both adults and children to a better understanding and appreciation of the arts.”

Since taking the position as the program manager in March, she works alongside Denton on scheduling art classes for the community and also contacting artists about future shows.

While most jobs train new hires for a couple weeks, Coley said she continues to learn new responsibilities daily.

“There is a lot of behind the scene work that has to get done that Lena still trains me on,” Coley said. “She explained it like spinning plates where I start here and get all the way down there and then I have to come back. It’s always about thinking ahead.”

A challenge she has faced in her new position developing her communication and interpersonal skills.

“I’m an introverted personality,” she said. “I’m more comfortable than I thought I would be. I have to greet people and talk with people about their projects and the classes. I feel like I’ve been morphed into this job and doing the things I really want to do.”

Coley said her time at ESU 13 and the guidance from Lena Soto and Denton has helped her learn how to manage people and gain different perspectives about approaching a situation.

“I’m learning there are other perspectives and you need to learn about them and be open to them,” Coley said.

As the program manager, Coley wants to spread the word about programs the art center has to offer and engage with community members.

“It’s an awesome place and there are so many opportunities here,” she said. “I hope to make it grow and work with more people in the community to make this a place to go in Nebraska.”

Coley is preparing for the art center’s next two shows June 27, which features photography and artwork of the Old West Balloon Fest as well as the President’s Show featuring Picasso pieces.

“Picasso did all kinds of stuff, so it’s I’m hoping it’s going to be sculptures, collages and cubism,” Coley said. “I’m hoping to bring Picasso in here.”

Arts role has been present in Coley’s life since she was young and when she creates a piece, she said it is a reflection of herself.

“To me, I think it’s an extension of the person,” she said. “I like art because I can take what’s in my head and show it, so it has form.”

By organizing shows at the art center, Coley said it provides an opportunity for people to be themselves.

“When you’re showing me your art, you’re showing me a piece of you,” Coley said. “It should give you a feeling. I think it’s important for people to be themselves no matter what and art helps me be that person.”

lauren.brant@starherald.com

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