Interview by Derek Grosso
Betsy Pandora is passionate about the vibrancy of Columbus and how we come together to celebrate community. If you know Betsy – and a large number of community leaders do – you know that she is well respected, well liked, and well-versed in Columbus. This city is her passion. (After all, Columbus is her hometown.) And leading the Short North Arts District into the future is her personal and professional goal. Her resume includes leadership positions in education, marketing, outreach, and strategic planning with many of Columbus’ leading arts and cultural nonprofits, most notably the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts and the Wexner Center for the Arts. As Executive Director for the Short North Alliance (SNA), Betsy oversees a million dollar operating budget, a team of 10, operations, safety initiatives, artistic and cultural program development, public art programming and planning, strategic marketing, fundraising, and board relations for both the SNA and Short North Special Improvement District – two neighborhood serving organizations in Columbus. With more than 15 years of experience working in the creative sector, Betsy is also a sought after public speaker and educator on the topics of destination marketing and creative placemaking. That’s another boon for the future of public art, as the City of Columbus moves forward with their High Street Streetscape Improvements Project – a $25 million capital improvements project – including $420,000 dedicated to public art projects in the Short North under Betsy’s jurisdiction and stellar leadership.
Tell us about your current role with the Short North Alliance:
I get to go to work and have fun every day. As a leader of community-based non-profit organization serving the densest commercial corridor in the City of Columbus, every day is a new challenge and an opportunity. From problem-solving and strategizing to planning and uniting the interests of some very diverse people, my job is never dull and is a daily adventure. I enjoy that my day may start out in the weeds of researching public policy solutions to issues that challenge our stakeholders and may end by working with artists and creatives to present art programs, festivals, and other experiences which celebrate community.
What advice has helped guide you in your career?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had some wonderful mentors throughout my career who, among many things, have always installed within me the importance of being humble, grateful, thoughtful, compassionate, and daring.
What inspires you?
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I have run two full marathons.
Explain some of your work-life balance challenges and how you achieve success in spite of the hustle and bustle?
It’s a daily struggle. But I work hard to unplug at least once a day.
What do you do or where do you go to unwind?
My peaceful backyard, a long run on the Olentangy Trail, or cross country train trips.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
If you could have a superpower, which would you choose?
Making more time.
What would your autobiography be called?
Betsy Pandora: The long and the short of it all.
What are among the top places you’d recommend to someone who is visiting or new to Columbus?
The Short North Arts District, including our art galleries, the Pizzuti Collection, the North Market, and our local shops and unique retailers. The Wexner Center for the Arts. Our historic theatres.
What’s the coolest thing about Columbus right now?
If you can dream it, you can be it in Columbus.
What’s the coolest thing about the Short North Arts District right now?
As We Are, a new public artwork by Matthew Mohr in the Greater Columbus Convention Center.
What are three things that you think Columbus needs (or wish Columbus had)?
More public art.
Bold public transit.
More risk-taking chefs committed to supporting local growers.
What local organizations are you involved with?
Community-serving work in the Short North is my full time job. I enjoy serving on the board of the Short North Foundation and teaching students as a lecturer at The Ohio State University.
Tell us about an upcoming initiative that you’re passionate about:
I’m passionate about our temporary streetscape art projects, debuting throughout 2018.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them?
All day, every day… the Short North Arts District.
In 2013, Betsy was also selected as one of CityPulse Magazine’s Young Professionals to Know in Columbus!