The Steel Yard in Providence is a unique combination of arts and technical training in welding, blacksmithing, jewelry and ceramics. Its new executive director, Helen Lang, stepped into the position in April, equipped with training in film and theater and extensive hands-on administrative and financial experience with nonprofits, as well as in the corporate world. As Lang puts down roots in Rhode Island and gets deeper into leading the Steel Yard, she’s sharing her vision on how to raise the Steel Yard’s community profile and maximize its potential as a catalyst for economic growth.
PBN: How did you come to be acquainted with the Steel Yard and interested in the position of executive director?
LANG: My daughter received a scholarship to the Lincoln School, so I started looking for work in this area because I wanted to move my family here. This job came to my attention when someone forwarded it to me. As soon as I noticed the job, it was love at first sight.
PBN: What was attractive to you about this job?
LANG: The combination of creating economic opportunity and the arts. I have a long career working in the nonprofit sector and I feel many organizations are overly dependent on contributed and foundation income. The Steel Yard has a good stream of earned income. And I like very much the way they present themselves. They want to reconnect people with the way things are made.
PBN: How do you plan to make sure the Steel Yard rises above the competition for financial support?
LANG: One of the keys is to look nationally to bigger foundations, like the Ford Foundation. In fact, right now we are one of five finalists for the Rudy Bruner Award. It’s a national award for excellence in terms of taking a site and converting it to another use. We took what was formerly a brownfield – formerly a steel yard – and remediated it and converted it to full use.