Arts advocate Martha MacDonell dies

Staff reports



LIMA — An advocate and leader for community projects, Martha MacDonell died Friday. She was 89.

“Martie” MacDonell had a role in the creation of several arts groups in Lima — the Council for the Arts of Greater Lima, American House and Common Threads — and the continual effort to push Lima to grow. She saw art as the perfect vehicle for that, an event to inspire conversation.

“Martie was the model of what an arts administrator should be — bold, passionate and absolutely insistent that her community deserved the very best art. Her creativity, her passion and, for me personally, her counsel will be missed,” said Bart Mills, executive director for the Council for the Arts of Greater Lima.

Elizabeth Brown-Ellis, executive director for the Lima Symphony Orchestra, explained she has known MacDonell since she was a child and was influenced by her to pursue a career in the arts.

“It’s difficult to imagine what Lima would have been without Martie’s leadership, vision and generosity. She embraced projects with the same warmth and passion as she embraced people. She opened the world, encouraged all of us to dream, then showed us how to accomplish the impossible with equal parts charm and tenacity,” Brown-Ellis said. “Martie was the force behind the Lima Symphony’s beloved Pops at the Loco, making classical music accessible and fun for the community. She was always one of the first on her feet after each concert to start the standing ovation, and whenever I spoke from the stage, I looked for her sparkling eyes and beaming smile for encouragement.”

“When the LSO received a grant to create our Healing Through Music program in 2018, Martie sent me a note that read simply, ‘You are doing the best work ever.’ It’s been my screensaver since that day and inspires me every day to try live up to her example and be a small part of continuing her legacy,” Brown-Ellis said.

Sally Windle, executive director of ArtSpace/Lima and past arts magnet director at Lima schools, said MacDonell’s influence will always be felt.

“Martie had the capability to see beyond the hopelessness of a dire situation and breathe new life into a project. She was a beacon of light — her magic was instilling the belief to everyone around her that they were the special ones who could make things happen. Her enthusiasm was infectious and people were drawn to her because of her genuine spirit — she truly loved the arts and this community,” Windle said.

“I have to consider myself one of the very lucky ones to be able to work with her. She modeled grace, enthusiasm, wisdom, charm, humor, but above all, love. She gave the best hugs and absolutely loved what she was doing, and life itself. You couldn’t help but be changed for the better after being around her,” Windle said.

“Her advocacy established the Arts Magnet school and she brought projects and artists to the schools for many years after its creation. She absolutely loved those children and took delight in participating with them.

Those times were like fuel for the fire for more,” Windle said.

“Rarely did one project or residency end before another was in the works.

Everyone benefited — school children, adults and the community. She brought us all together. I was a better art educator and artist because of Martie’s influence,” Windle said.

“The work we do at ArtSpace now is influenced by the way she loved the arts and the community. Her words and influences will stay with me always and her work will continue through this organization,” Windle said.

MacDonell was born Nov. 4, 1930, and grew up in Youngstown. At Denison University, she met the man who would become her husband, Alexander D. “Sandy” MacDonell Jr. He was a Lima native, and that’s where they made their home.

Recently, she and her niece, Molly F. Weis, wrote a book reflecting on her arts legacy. “Beyond Our Imagination: Visionary Community Arts Projects in Lima, Ohio 1975-2003” was published last fall in an effort to inspire others to continue the work in the arts community and community as a whole.

Some of that work included bringing artists into Lima schools for student learning opportunities, helping build and launch Veterans Memorial Civic Center to downtown Lima with appropriate fanfare and organizing a concert by Willie Nelson at the Allen County Fairgrounds.

One example was a 2009 partnership with Lima schools, Allen County Common Threads and the Sojourn Theatre Company. The project explored the issues around the police shooting death of Tarika Wilson and the racial tension that followed. Theater members talked with Lima Senior students, presented monologues and then held discussions. The case study, “A Time of Crisis, A Moment for Art: Sojourn Theatre and the Lima Senior Dialogue Project,” was written afterward by MacDonell, Judy Gilbert and Weis.

“We wrote this case study to be a teaching tool for communities and schools and public leaders responding to crisis,” MacDonell said at the time.

After a Common Threads program in 2002, held at the Civic Center, she described her goals.

“The perspectives of Allen County citizens is a great way to start conversations that matter,” MacDonell said at the time. “When we hear each other talk and realize our differences and also our similarities, we are taking a step upward in the Allen County community. … We are surprised with how many people in the Allen County community are interested to make it a cohesive community. To make it not just a fractional community, but to bring it together as a whole.”

Services will be private. Visitation will be Wednesday, July 22, at Market Street Presbyterian Church. See page 3B for her obituary and details about the arrangements.


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