LAND Studio finds new executive director, Greg Peckham, in its own backyard
CLEVELAND, Ohio - LAND studio, the nonprofit organization focused on Cleveland's public spaces, has picked a familiar face as its new leader, ending a nationwide search in its own backyard.
The organization's board of directors has tapped Greg Peckham, now managing director, to step up to the lead role of executive director in mid-March. He'll move into the position as Ann Zoller, who has worked closely with Peckham for more than five years, departs.
Zoller announced in September that she planned to step down, after 25 years of public- and private-sector work on public space initiatives. The timing was right, since LAND Studio had just finishing managing the $50 million transformation of downtown Cleveland's Public Square - a megaproject for a nonprofit group with 17 employees and a $2.1 million annual operating budget.
Though Zoller hasn't figured out her next act, she's leaving LAND Studio in comfortable hands. She and Peckham joined forces in 2011, when the nonprofits they led - ParkWorks and Cleveland Public Art, respectively - merged.
Zoller became the combined organization's public face. Peckham developed programs and managed the staff. They charted strategies together.
"We always knew we had a strong internal candidate," Leah Gary, co-chairwoman of LAND Studio's board and the leader of the executive search committee, said in a news release. "Conducting an independent, national search confirmed our board's confidence in Greg's vision. We look forward to his leadership for years to come."
Peckham, 43, grew up in Cleveland Heights and is a longtime resident of Ohio City, where he lives with his wife and two daughters. He has a bachelor's degree from Ohio State University and a master's degree in nonprofit management from the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.
He views widely accessible art and high-quality public spaces as more than amenities. They're essential tools for building communities, bolstering neighborhoods and building up the local economy, he said during a Friday morning interview at LAND Studio's offices in Ohio City.
"Our job is to be the driver of creating great public squares in Cleveland, places that are activated through arts, that are common grounds, that feel open and accessible to everybody - and that add value to the real estate and to the neighborhoods around them," he said.
"They're not nice-to-haves," he added. "They're need-to-haves."
Though LAND Studio has managed high-profile downtown projects including the Public Square revamp and a makeover of Perk Park on East 12th Street, the nonprofit also operates on a smaller scale.
Drawing on money from foundations, corporations, community members, the Ohio Arts Council and funds flowing from a tax on cigarettes in Cuyahoga County, the organization has worked with partners to install art, spruce up streets, remake parks and renovate playgrounds across Cleveland.
Peckham said LAND Studio's mission and output won't change on his watch. But the nonprofit might be gardening with an expanded set of tools.
For example, LAND Studio hopes to run a pilot program this summer in the Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood, on the city's East Side, to capture feedback from low-income residents who can't make it to community planning meetings because of work schedules or family obligations.
Using a mobile-phone app called Streetwyze, residents will be able to rate the walkability and safety of the streets near their homes, weigh in on access to healthful foods and provide other on-the-ground information that existing databases don't necessarily get right.
That sort of data could, in turn, inform the types of projects LAND Studio tackles.
"You have to understand where a neighborhood is at any moment in time," Peckham said. "Issues of safety and bringing community members together, events and programming are really important to building a relationship between us and the neighborhood."
On a larger scale, the nonprofit is playing a key role in a public-private push to refashion the crumbling hillside at Irishtown Bend, between West 25th Street and the Cuyahoga River just outside of downtown, as an expansive public green space. A conservation grant awarded last month will enable LAND Studio and its partners to acquire, clear and landscape 6.9 acres of the 17-acre footprint envisioned for the project.
"Public Square is a one-of-a-kind project," Peckham said, "but things like Irishtown Bend have the capacity to be transformational on a similar kind of magnitude."
On the public art side, the organization is aiming for a summer rollout of the first wave of projects funded by a recent grant from the Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation, based in Mayfield Heights. That work will involve both local and national artists.
"As a relatively young organization, LAND Studio has built a very strong reputation and is in an optimal position, both locally and nationally," Bob O'Brien, co-chairman of the board, said in the news release about Peckham's promotion.
"We are confident in Greg's ability to lead the organization and continue the powerful record of success built by Ann Zoller and the LAND Studio team. Greg brings a unique perspective to the position and will undoubtedly carry out an inspiring vision for the future."