Hens-Kaplan Helped Make GAC ‘A Happy Place’ for Many
When Suzanne Hens-Kaplan retires in June as Guilford Art Center (GAC) chief financial officer and operations director, it will be knowing that, for 18 years, she’s helped GAC to become a “happy place” for many.
In her staff introduction at guilfordartcenter.org, she notes, “I enjoy seeing people delighting in art, whether it is students creating, instructors sharing, volunteers helping, gallery visitors observing, or shoppers browsing the GAC Shop or Craft Expo. It’s great to work for a place that is a happy place for many.”
Suzanne counts herself lucky to have been part of the small, dedicated and creative staff at non-profit GAC, including working alongside Executive Director Maureen Belden and reporting to its hardworking board.
“As I’ve said, it’s a happy place for a lot of people, and it’s definitely the people that make the job,” says Suzanne.
During her years with GAC, the organization has grown and blossomed in ways Suzanne says are both notable and noticeable.
“When I first went there, it was the Guilford Handcraft Center, so we had a name change, in 2005,” says Suzanne. “There’s been the growth of the website and social media and we’ve had three building projects. So the facility, itself, has grown.”
Projects included one renovation in the school in 2003, another renovating the pole barn and the blacksmith forge and stone carving area, and just recently, when the pandemic started, another school renovation expanding the pottery studio and adding a classroom and a larger kids’ room.
Suzanne first joined GAC in 2003 as finance/technology manager and has been in her present role since 2013. In her work, she’s responsible for GAC’s financial procedures and reporting, overseeing facilities and general day-to-day operations, and I.T. functions.
“I’m sort of a jack-of-all-trades,” says Suzanne, adding her work is further enhanced by the many exciting events and interesting activities swirling around this shoreline art center and art education hub. “It’s always different. You never know what the day’s going to bring.”
She notified Belden and the board of her decision to retire in November 2021. Before she officially retires on June 24, Suzanne will be busy helping GAC in its current search to fill a new position, finance and operations manager, reporting to Belden.
“So we’re going back to a more traditional [role], which it first was when I joined GAC,” says Suzanne,
As co-directors, Suzanne and Belden both report to the board.
“Even prior to my reporting to them, it’s always been a pleasure working with the board,” Suzanne says. “They’re people who truly believe in what GAC plans for and does.”
Suzanne highly recommends the new staff position to those with the right qualifications and qualities.
“It’s a very diverse job, working with wonderful people in a supportive environment,” she says. “It’s a good place to be. If you want to take a break and relax, you can walk through the school or look in the shop or go in the gallery—you don’t have to go very far!”
Of course, working at a facility like GAC also offers the opportunity to take classes and expand one’s creative side. Suzanne’s picked up classes in pottery, stained glass, and knitting, among others.
Ideally, GAC will hire someone while Suzanne is still on the job so she can help and guide that person in their new role.
“We’re hoping to have some overlap and a smooth transition,” she says.
With new fiscal year budgets finalized every August, GAC’s finance management work ramps up in the summer months and stays busy in September, when its annual independent audit process gets underway. Meanwhile, the school, shop and gallery are busy, too.
“The fall semester is a big semester for us, and we also have our Artistry holiday shopping taking place,” says Suzanne.
That’s not to say that the rest of the year leaves much down time. In addition to winter and spring semesters and summer camps, GAC mounts the famed outdoor juried show of American craft, Craft Expo, on the Guilford Green each July (the show had to be canceled for the past two years, due to the pandemic). This year, the 2022 GAC Craft Expo returns to the Guilford Green on Friday, July 15 through Sunday, July 17.
“Other times of the year, there’s always a special event going on and something happening,” says Suzanne, adding of her job, “It’s definitely not a typical 9-to-5!”
From helping to man Craft Expo to backing fundraising events such as Soup for Good, everyone on the staff finds a way to pitch in.
“We’re a close-knit staff and work well together,” Suzanne says.
The group rallied to work and help fundraise remotely during to the pandemic, especially when GAC pivoted to online classes when the school facility needed to close, by state mandate, during the spring 2020 semester.
When she does retire, Suzanne says she’s looking forward to enjoying a summer schedule that’s freed up to allow for more boating with her husband, Stan Kaplan. The couple moved to Madison in 1984, where they raised their daughter Lara Goodrich, now a clinical psychologist with a local private practice.
Suzanne is also delighted by the prospect of spending more time with her two grandchildren. She’ll also be spending more time with her pets, a rescue dog named Gretel and an “extremely loud” and colorful sun conure, Chico. The medium-sized parrot is at least 18 years old, Suzanne estimates.
“The dog doesn’t bark when somebody comes to the house, but the bird screeches,” she reports. “They have reverse roles!”
Suzanne’s also anticipating enjoying a “slower pace of life” while pursuing some hobbies, such as her love of cooking. She’s also considering volunteering, but possibly not as a financial or I.T. expert, because, “in some ways, I want to do something very different than I’ve been doing for the past 18 years.”
Suzanne’s retirement from GAC caps a career that’s been steeped in her field. She earned an MBA from Sacred Heart University, a B.A. from the State University of New York at Albany, and served as business manager at the former Pine Brook (formerly Wightwood) School in Branford as well as in a variety of accounting and technical support positions.
In June, Suzanne will exit GAC confident she’s assisted with shepherding its solid financial foundation.
“I think, financially, it’s in a much better place than when I started,” she says. “Even through the pandemic, many generous donors and even government support really helped offset our loss of income.”
She’s also excited to have witnessed GAC’s post-pandemic renaissance including the return of in-person classes and the continuing popularity of some online programming which first came into bloom during the pandemic. There’s also a strong demand among artists and students who want to get their hands on GAC equipment and services that are unique to the shoreline area, such as its pottery studio and kilns, weaving studio, blacksmith forge, and metals studio.
“The most popular things in the school are the studios that have the equipment that most people don’t have at home—those have wait lists right now,” says Suzanne. “We also found out, during the pandemic, that people really like to take drawing and painting classes online, too. Those are the two mediums that have really benefited from online classes.”
While her time as an integral staff member is winding down, Suzanne says she will always be grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of the GAC family.
“I want to thank the staff, the board, and especially Maureen. She’s been a great partner, and I think we’ve complemented each other in our skills,” Suzanne says. “I just wish everybody the best of luck.”