EDMOND — Her smile shined as bright as the carrot-cake orange paint on the walls of her Edmond Fine Arts Institute office as executive director Mitzi Hancuff talked about retiring after 25 years.
“It is going to be a tough day,” she said. “This has been my life for 25 years.”
Hancuff, who was hired part-time in 1988, remembers when it all started with one room in the First United Methodist Church and a “little tiny sink” in a restroom for water for all the art projects. The nonprofit institute later moved to a strip mall at Edmond Road and Kelly Avenue.
The institute's budget was $18,000. That included Hancuff's $10,000 salary. The annual budget has grown to more than $500,000 to provide visual and performing arts education for children and adults.
The number of students has increased from 97 the first year to 2,800 last year. Through all of its programs, the institute reaches about 14,000 people a year, she said.
“We have touched so many lives,” Hancuff said. “It is almost a dream.”
Hancuff raised more than $1.3 million for the institute's new building at 27 E Edwards that was constructed in 2006. Jim and Mary White, whose daughter, Peggy, took classes at the institute, donated the land for the building.
“Once they gave the land, we started raising the money,” she said. “The donations were from $250,000, to $20 a friend gave me in the grocery store.”
Hancuff smiled even bigger as she talked about the building she helped design.
“Just look around,” Hancuff said. “There are appropriate classrooms and all the beautiful artwork. It is a dream I never thought would happen.”
Her accomplishments are many. One she is particularly proud of came in 2009 when then Gov. Brad Henry presented her the Governor's Arts in Education Award.
“That's a humbling thing.” Hancuff said.
Hancuff is excited about retirement. She said it is time.
She wants to spend more time with Carl, her husband of 47 years, and her four grandchildren.
“I want to be able to pick up my grandson from school and go have an ice cream,” Hancuff said.
Her grandchildren's photos are part of a watercolor painting that hangs on her office wall, along with art she has been given and some she has bought. There are articles about her accomplishments and awards she has won.
Two of her grandchildren, ages 6 and 13, live in Edmond, and two, ages 6 and 11, live in Atlanta.
“I go to Atlanta twice a year,” Handcuff said. “I want to go more.”
Smooth transition expected
Hancuff's last day on the job is May 17.
Shannon Price, the assistant executive director, will take over the executive director job. Price, a former Putnam City art teacher, has been with the institute for 19 years.
“We are so fortunate,” Hancuff said. “We don't have to do a search. She is right here. That is why I am comfortable leaving. This organization is really fortunate.”
Hancuff isn't going away. She will take the summer off, and then she plans to continue working with the Fine Arts Institute teen board consisting of artistic students who help with programming, and the annual juried art show.
“That is very dear to me,” she said. “I will report to Shannon. That will be fun.”
Hancuff's smile and love for the Fine Arts Institute will be missed.
“She is such a kindhearted, caring person,” board member Michelle Trimburger said. “You can see that from what she brings to the board. She is a true pleasure to be around. She will be missed by everyone.”
Hancuff admits the last board meeting and her last day on the job will be sad. But as always, she will have a smile on her face those last days as executive director.
“Everyday I walk in here I have a smile on my face,” she said. “That says it all.”