Cynnie Gaasch, who expanded Young Audiences of Western New York from a wayward non-profit into a regional leader in arts education, is leaving the organization after more than eight years at the helm.
The move, which Gaasch announced to board members and Young Audiences donors in July, will be effective at the end this month.
During her tenure at the organization, which began in 2008, Gaasch helped to nearly triple Young Audience's budget, from about $270,000 in 2009 to $780,000 today. Under her leadership, Young Audiences expanded its programming through artist residencies in local schools, after-school programs, summer workshops and collaborations with community organizations like the Erie County Department of Mental Health.
"I felt like I'd been there for a while, and also wanted more freedom," said Gaasch, who said she is departing to focus on her painting career, work as a consultant for nonprofits and to teach in the University at Buffalo's arts management program. "To be able to get back to painting is important to me. When I left work, I didn't have the energy to put into making art."
Gaasch's arrival at Young Audiences coincided with the decline and eventual closure of three other arts education groups: Musicians United for a Superior Education, the Coalition of Arts Providers for Children and the Arts Education Institute of Western New York. She was perhaps most successful as a grant writer, both stabilizing the organization's budget and securing substantial grants from the National Endowment for the Arts for a community-based mural on Grant Street and an upcoming project featuring the artist Nick Cave.
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Executive Director Daniel Hart, who served on the Young Audiences board for several years, praised Gaasch's commitment.
"Young Audiences thrived under her leadership over the years. She professionalized it, she expanded programming," Hart said. "I was always impressed with how visionary she was and how strategic she was in pursuing new opportunities."
The Young Audiences board has formed a search committee for Gaasch's replacement.