Stander leaving Arts Alliance; led group in five eventful years

John Stander says he's glad to leave the Arts Alliance in the capable young hands of Ashle Briggs Horton, Stacy Reisick and Deb Opificius. (Photo by Bruce Strand)
John Stander says he’s glad to leave the Arts Alliance in the capable young hands of Ashle Briggs Horton, Stacy Reisick and Deb Opificius. (Photo by Bruce Strand)


by Bruce Strand, Arts editor

The lake in the movie “On Golden Pond” has been on John Stander’s mind recently.

The leader of Elk River Area Arts Alliance for five eventful years will be moving soon to that lake in Maine with gorgeous sunsets where Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn filmed the 1981 classic.

“I’ve spent 80 summers of my life there,” said Stander. “Starting when I was six months old. I only missed the two years I was in the Army. It’s called Great Pond. It’s the lake that inspired the writer of the story. I have many, many friends there.”

Stander became ERAAA’s executive director in 2009 and guided the organization through a period which chairman Dave Raymond describes as “tumultuous” including two moves.

Stander has resigned the position to enter full retirement, although he continues to help out a couple days per week while waiting to sell his house in Monticello.

“All of us at the Arts Alliance know we would not be where we are without his guidance,” stated Raymond, “and we wish him the best.”

Stacy Reiseck, the alliance’s Gallery Manager for three years, now has additional duties as Program Director.

“Stacy has done an outstanding job in the gallery,” said Raymond, “and now she’ll handle some of the things John was doing, and Ashle will take on some of the other things John did.”

Ashle Briggs Horton was hired for a new position, Development Coordinator.

“The staff will be younger, which is good,” said Stander. “Ashle is a nice addition. She is a bright girl with a good marketing background.”

Horton, an Elk River native and resident, has done marketing for ad agencies and currently works with a firm specializing in e-learning. An English major at St. Benedict’s, she is also a freelance writer.

“I come from a family of artists, and I have always wanted to work in the arts,” said Horton, whose father, Chad, is an accomplished potter and teaches the alliance’s ceramics class. “I will be doing grant writing and marketing.”

The third member of the triumvirate leading the Alliance is Deb Opificius, continuing to serve as Financial Manager.

During the nearly five years Stander supervised, the Alliance went through two downtown moves. It also added the ceramics program, a bookstore (in partnership with Reading Frenzy of Zimmerman), and a ballet program (in partnership with North Ballet of Rogers). Its summer festival Art Soup was moved back downtown where it originated and became annual rather than bi-annual.

“And now Land of Lakes Choirboys moving to Elk River, too, so we’re excited about that,” Stander added. The group is moving into the Elk River Lutheran building on Main Street.

The gallery now has a corner location at 609 Main with a plaza that will become a sculpture garden. Gene Olson’s towering ladle sculpture already sits there, announcing the gallery’s presence.

“It’s a prime location,” said Stander. “The rent is no higher than it was before. The owner is very supportive. He talked about how much arts did for downtown Hopkins and for his home town in Florida.”

Asked about finances, Stander said the Alliance, which has 425 members, was able to operate under budget this year, after two years above budget due to the moves.

Stander expressed appreciation to the Rivers Edge Business Association for partnering with the Arts Alliance in various projects. “I am hopeful,” he said, “that with our new location by the bridge, the Land of Lakes Choirboys now at the other end of Main Street, and the city’s summer performance (continuing) on stage by the river, that interest will pick up for the Rivers Edge business community.”

Stander, a native of Scarsdale, N.Y., was superintendent for four schools, seven years apiece, including one in China. His last post was Blake, a private school in Minneapolis. After retiring from education, Stander moved to Monticello with his wife, Isabella, who died in 2010. Isabella was active in arts scene and the Standers hosted many arts functions.