UCROSS – William Belcher, the new president of the Ucross Foundation, took over as head of the organization about a month ago. Belcher has worked in the nonprofit arts sector for more than two decades – and has spent the past four years working as director of development for Ucross – but succeeding Sharon Dynak, who has worked for the foundation for 25 years. , is no small task.
Dynak came to Ucross in the fall of 1996, after being fired from a New York editing job by novelist Annie Proulx. Looking for new pastures, Dynak asked his travel agent to buy him a one-way ticket to Billings.
“Are you sure it’s a one-way ticket to Billings?” Dynak remembers the travel agent asking.
Upon her arrival at Ucross, Dynak took over as residency director, carrying the torch for an “artist-centric” residency program that began at the ranch in 1983 and helped raise the profile of Ucross at national level. The residency program, which Dynak described as the foundation’s core function, offers artists the gift of uninterrupted time to focus on their work.
Dynak gets to work. She said she approaches the challenges with the artists in mind, making sure the residency program works to make their lives and work better and more productive. She has established relationships with the Sundance Institute, PEN/Hemingway Awards, Pew Fellowships for the Arts, and many other national organizations, as well as local partnerships with Wyoming Girls School, WYO Performing Arts and Education Center, and the University of Wyoming.
The residency program has expanded. Upon arrival, Dynak said the foundation accommodates eight residents at a time. Today, Ucross hosts 10 residents at a time—four in visual arts, four in writing, and two in performing arts or music—for a total of about 100 artists a year.
Dynak said everyone at Ucross, from groundskeepers to president, shares a commitment to ensuring performers can perform at their best on the ranch.
“I was really lucky to have so many [Ucross staff members] who share the same appreciation…” Dynak said. “Everyone really seems to be responding with a lot of inspiration and real commitment.”
In the 2000s, Dynak was appointed general manager and president of the foundation. All of a sudden, says Dynak, 25 years have passed.
“I didn’t expect this,” Dynak said of spending so much time at the Ucross Foundation. “Ucross is such a fascinating place.”
Since she announced her intention to retire last year, Dynak and Belcher have worked together to ensure that the transition of power goes as smoothly as possible. Belcher said he followed Dynak from January to April, understanding her routine as president, and their titles officially changed earlier this month.
Belcher said he hopes to maintain the momentum established by Ucross founder Raymond Plank and Dynak. He has been with Ucross for several years as Director of Development and is well connected to ongoing projects at Ucross, from fundraising efforts to renovating the foundation’s art gallery.
“I don’t have to learn all of this from scratch,” Belcher said.
The main shift under his leadership, Belcher said, will be to continue the transition from a founder-centric model to a more traditional nonprofit model.
To ensure the Ucross Foundation remains a relevant and meaningful resource for artists-in-residence and the Sheridan County community, Belcher said the foundation must be funded and organized by a diverse pool of donors, grants and gifts.
Although Belcher admitted that the model is different from the founder-centric model that Ucross was based on, all organizations go through these lifecycles, Belcher said.
Dynak is not quite gone. She will remain Ucross’ creative advisor and director of the foundation’s national advisory board, and she’s committed to providing whatever support Belcher needs. Dynak also said she hoped to see some of the projects she had planned as president come to fruition.
“I’ve always been an enthusiast and a champion…I’ll find a way to continue that kind of service to artists, and that’s exciting for me,” Dynak said.
The Ucross Foundation is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary, Belcher said, and officials are excited about the organization’s future, despite the leadership change.
“We’re looking at the next 40 years,” Belcher said.