KAY FEURER March 19, 1935-Oct. 18, 2018
Champion for the arts
“Kay Feurer loved and appreciated the arts,” says Grace Nanavati, director emeritus of the Springfield Ballet Company (SBC). “She left a forever footprint in our city. I adored Kay. She had an internal ticker to my soul. Through her leadership with the Springfield Area Arts Council (SAAC), she made everyone’s life better.”
First Night Springfield, now in its 32nd year…a center for the arts, which Feurer was the first to envision…the Mayor’s Awards for the Arts…a community that values and appreciates the arts and local artists. These are the legacy of Kay Feurer.
Feurer began her involvement with the arts in Springfield as a SBC board member. “She had two young boys at home, and she longed to do something artistic,” says Nanavati. Soon after, she became company manager of the SBC. “Everything Kay did was done purposely. She saw potential for wonderful growth of the SBC and expedited that with her solid business knowledge. Kay was able to see what things could become, and that followed her with every opportunity in her life,” says Nanavati.
Feurer left the SBC in 1985 to become executive director of Springboard, which became the SAAC. She was deeply committed to promoting the arts and local artists and helping the community understand and appreciate what a vibrant arts environment can do for a city. “Kay worked tirelessly to put the arts and artists in front of the community,” says Polly Poskin, a longtime SAAC volunteer and board member. “Kay was very driven and had so much energy. She saw herself in the background making things happen, never seeking praise or recognition.”
Boston originated First Night. Always doing her research before proposing an idea, Feurer traveled to Boston to see this in action. She came back determined to bring this to fruition for Springfield. “She shifted the paradigm of what you can do on a cold winter night in central Illinois and do as a family,” says Poskin, a volunteer at Springfield’s first First Night. “It was clear in a minute that we had the right leadership.”
This year’s First Night Springfield on New Year’s Eve will be dedicated to Feurer. Springfield’s First Night was Illinois’ first and longest running. First Night is a non-alcoholic family-friendly event featuring music, dance performances, hands-on creative activities for children, local artists and entertainment at multiple venues throughout downtown.
Everyone who knew and worked with Feurer cites her business acumen, which was essential to successfully lead a nonprofit organization with a limited budget. Feurer was also visionary. She had the notion of a centralized venue for the arts. “The Hoogland Center as it came to be was a product of her vision,” says Poskin. “She knew that it’s hard to get recognition in the community with everything operating in isolation.” Feurer envisioned a place where many local arts organizations could come together and have a wide variety of venue sizes for performances.
Judy Bartholf has known Feurer since her days at the SBC, and they remained lifelong friends. Bartholf remembers the first meeting when Feurer planted the idea of an art center at the former Masonic Temple, which became the Hoogland Center for the Arts. “She gathered everyone in the main auditorium and spoke to the possibility of turning the building into an art center,” says Bartholf. The Hoogland Center’s website summarizes its history. It credits Feurer for recognizing the potential in 1988, but says, “At the time, taking this vision to reality is seemingly unattainable.”
“The Masons weren’t ready for Kay when she showed up,” says Nanavati. It would take another 15 years before renovations began, and work by many people, but there is no doubt that Feurer’s vision was essential to the Hoogland Center becoming a reality. How fitting that the grand opening of the Hoogland Center was on First Night, 15 years ago this New Year’s Eve.
Feurer also advocated for the arts at the state level. She served on the board of the Illinois Arts Alliance and the Illinois Alliance for Arts Education. She also served Springfield as a volunteer leader for ARC (now Sparc) and the allocation panel of the United Way.
After nearly a decade leading the SAAC, Feurer was enticed to move back to her home city of Chicago in 1994 to be executive assistant to the Illinois President of JP Morgan/Chase Bank. She loved Chicago and retired after 20 years of service.
Feurer moved back to Springfield in 2017, and she died on October 18, 2018. She was the loving mother of two sons, Timothy and Jeffrey, and devoted grandmother of three.
She is deeply missed by her family and many friends. The community should be grateful for her many contributions to the arts in Springfield. “Kay’s foundational work helped make things happen,” says Poskin.“ “I’m very excited this year’s First Night is being dedicated to my dear friend, Kay,” says Bartholf.
Karen Ackerman Witter retired from the Illinois State Museum and enjoys freelance writing about interesting people, places and organizations. She first met Kay Feurer in the late 1980s through First Night, and she has long admired Kay for raising the profile of the arts in Springfield.