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Alexandria nonprofit teaching creative expression to inmates seeks new executive director

After six years leading Heard, a nonprofit that brings the arts to incarcerated adults, Jane Collins is hanging up her hat.

Collins, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, founded the nonprofit in 2017 by hosting a writing contest between participants of ALIVE!, Friends of Guest House and Together We Bake. Collins has been executive director ever since, growing the nonprofit to teach thousands of Alexandria adults in the Alexandria Detention Center, the Arlington County jail, and in more than a dozen local nonprofits.

“I’m not ‘leaving’ leaving,” Collins told ALXnow. “I am stepping aside, and I know that probably sounds like splitting hairs, but yes, we are looking for a new executive director to take over day-to-day operations.”

Heard pays artists to teach workshops on poetry, visual arts, improvisation, etiquette, public speaking, dance and singing. Last year, the nonprofit gave 229 classes to nearly 2,000 participants, according to their annual report.

“Thank you for being part of my healing,” wrote a female inmate from the Alexandria jail in a testimonial. “Your investment is priceless. Please continue doing what you are [doing,] truly saving lives.”

The nonprofit also offers karaoke every Wednesday night to inmates in the Alexandria jail.

“I go with our professional singing teacher and opera singer, Bharati Soman, and she gives a singing lessons and we sing along to karaoke songs,” Collins said. “Some of those guys can really sing.”

Heard will pay $25,000 to the new executive director, a financial shift for the organization since Collins took in a meager annual salary of $7,500 in 2022.

The organization is funded by the City’s Office of the Arts, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, grants and private contributions. Heard also collected $23,000 in this year’s Spring2ACTion fundraiser, their biggest annual fundraising event.

“I think this job is good for someone who needs a challenge,” Collins said. “I’m thinking of maybe somebody who was a recently retired from a corporate, a nonprofit or a federal leadership position that wants to stay engaged and help but doesn’t necessarily want the 40-to-60 hour week. Or it could be a highly successful maybe parent who took some time out to raise a family, but now the kids are in school and they want to get back into something rewarding.”

Collins will be staying on in a reduced capacity and hopes that the new executive director is organized, personable and has a vision for future growth.

“There’s no reason why communities can’t be adopting this model across the country,” Collins said. “And when I say this model, I mean, using local artists to help support and address whatever the local need happens to be.”

Photos via Heard/Facebook

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