After being involved with Rimon: The Minnesota Jewish Arts Council since its inception 26 years ago, David Harris, the only executive director the group has had, announced his retirement this week. In a letter from Harris and board chair Linda Passon-McNally to the community, Harris will stay in his position until July 2022.
“It’s not that I feel like I’ve run out of steam,” Harris said. “I think I’m still operating at a good creative level. I really feel that this is a moment to open space for younger leadership. I had really remarkable opportunities in my 30s and 40s. That made a huge difference in my life and in my working life.
“I do feel strongly that my generation — and I am a baby boomer — owes it to the younger generations … to share the leadership opportunities. The only way you learn how to lead is by leading.”
Said Passon-McNally: “David has been a mentor, innovator, and friend to those in the arts community and particularly those Jewish artists and artists with Jewish interests in Minnesota. He has built a nationally acclaimed organization that has the respect and admiration of artists and art lovers throughout our state and the country.”
Rimon was founded in 1995, Harris said, by a consortium of interest groups — which is part of what has served the group so well.
“It brought together for the first time working artists, institutional leaders, and arts lovers,” he said. “Believe it or not, those three groups had really never sat down at the same table.”
Rather than jumping right into creating programs, the parties all sat down and talked to figure out what was needed. Harris, who had been a working artist at the time, chaired or co-chaired the group’s advisory committee from 1998-2004, when he was hired as the first — and so far only — executive director.
“An immense amount of goodwill and volunteer labor went into creating Rimon,” Harris said. “And the truth of the matter is that that is still part of our DNA, because we have this very large engaged advisory board. To this day, that is a very important part of how Rimon gets its work done. I always tell those folks, they’re the eyes and ears and legs of the organization.”
For Harris, the “Rimon DNA” starts first and foremost with collaboration.
“For us, it was never just a tactic. It was really how we rolled. It’s how we saw the world,” he said. “You know, some people collaborate because they think it means a bigger audience for them. Whereas for us, it was a worldview. Not only was it more efficient, but the impact was so much bigger. We could make a bigger difference in the world.”
This move wasn’t a surprise to the Rimon board — Harris and Passon-McNally said that this has been in the works for almost a year. Michael Stanfield is going to chair the working committee to initiate the search for Harris’ successor.
“I’ve developed a very ambitious portfolio for the organization,” Harris said. “I don’t expect a successor to embrace all of it. But the DNA, I hope, is something that will persist.”