Linda Swan, who ran the Kogod Center for the Arts for many years, directed the Daryl Rubenstein Art Gallery, and offered a photography course to Upper School students, retired in June. Ed Crow of the Upper School Arts Department shares his remembrances of Linda.
One day in late June I braved the demolition dust from Kenworthy and went into the Arts Office to retrieve something from my desk. When I opened the door, I was shocked to see Linda’s desk bare and empty, the reassuring clutter around the desk gone. So I had an anxiety attack. The image has haunted me all summer. Of course I knew Linda was retiring, but I hadn’t fully accepted the idea that she wouldn’t be at that desk as usual in September.
Probably no one, with the possible exception of Thomas Sidwell himself, has ever retired with a more complete understanding of the whole School than Linda Swan. And in Mr. Sidwell’s day, the School was a lot less complicated.
Her association with SFS began as a parent when her son Gardner ’96 entered third grade, followed by Nathan ’01. Linda says at that time she was a “stay at home” mom with “time to be a parent volunteer.” Eventually, when a job opened in the Development Office, she applied because, “I enjoyed being at Sidwell Friends so much.”
Linda was Information Management Clerk and Computer Specialist in the Office of Development from 1989 to 1992, during which she received a Newmeyer Award, largely for helping the School acquire free computers when the Safeway and Giant “Grocery Receipts for Computers” program first began. Then, fortunately for the Arts Department, she became Coordinator and Assistant Director of the Kogod Center for the Arts. She also became Director of the Lower School After-Care Program. In 1996, Linda became Director of the Kogod Center for the Arts and Director of the Daryl Reich Rubenstein Art Gallery. In 1997 as Upper School Teacher of Photography, she created the darkroom-based black and white photography course that quickly became one of the most popular courses in the Arts curriculum. Along the way Linda made time to create an animation mini-mester in Middle School, which she describes as one of her most enjoyable experiences at Sidwell. She even worked for a year as part-time Assistant to the Athletic Director!
Linda’s real passion, I think, is teaching photography. She believes students should begin by learning black and white technique and darkroom skills. She teaches students to look closely at the things they see around them every day to discover a meaningful moment or juxtaposition that can be captured within the frame of the camera lens to make art. The progress and success of the student photographers can be measured in the impressive displays of their work in the corridors of the Upper School and, periodically, in the Rubenstein Gallery. I find it difficult to hurry past one of these displays without stopping for awhile to look and admire. Linda hopes that when the new arts spaces are ready, the photography program will have room to grow.
As Director of the Arts Center, Linda wore many “hats.” She managed the operating and capital budgets. She coordinated events – an enormous job in a building where so many activities compete for time and space. She provided or coordinated technical support when the technical director was not available. She managed the use and care of the costume loft and props storage. And, Linda took responsibility for the general appearance of the Arts Center. There were also such things as making sure that scripts and tickets were ordered, that posters and programs were designed and printed, that the box office ran smoothly, and that borrowed or rented costumes were cleaned and returned.
Much of what Linda did was not in her job description. For example, she took exquisite photographs of every Upper School production, many of which appeared in the beautiful retrospective exhibit she created for the Rubenstein Gallery.
She somehow found time to help with productions in other ways when need arose—which was often. This could mean anything from painting sets; to driving to Marshall, Virginia, to pick up a surrey; to installing the marley floor for Dance Ensemble; to recruiting her husband, Gordon, to help finish the stair railings so Hay Fever could open on time. For our most recent musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Linda spent hours using her Photoshop skills to create the wonderful banners which hung on either side of the stage and to make usable the images that were projected onto the rear screen.
As Director of the Rubenstein Gallery, Linda enjoyed working with a wide variety of exhibits, which have included work by guest artists; faculty and staff; parents and alumni; students from the Duke Ellington School for the Arts; and SFS students from Upper, Middle, and Lower Schools. She believes the Rubenstein Memorial Guest Artist program offers a unique learning experience because students can “live” with the work for an extended period of time and have the opportunity to meet and talk with the artist.
As Advisor to the Arts Guild for ten years, Linda admired the initiative of the students as they came together monthly on a Friday night to showcase their talents—whether in music, theater, poetry, comedy, dance, or visual arts. She loved the way they encouraged and applauded each other. She said, “There was no such thing as a bad audience.”
No summary of Linda’s years at Sidwell Friends could possibly capture all of the hours of helpful attention she has paid to the needs of her students and her colleagues, or the generosity and spirit she cheerfully contributed to the School. Linda gave of her time and talent a measure far beyond what was required or expected of her. We came to depend on that, and she never let us down.
Above all, working with Linda has been fun! I particularly enjoyed celebrating with Linda and others in the Arts Department after an opening: It was always a Manhattan for Linda—and a good time for all of us. We hope to see her often. But, heaven knows, we shall miss her.
What we are to do without her, I cannot imagine.