After 25 years at Ucross, the prestigious artist residency program in Wyoming, Sharon Dynak has announced her retirement, effective April 2022. William (Bill) Belcher, an experienced arts professional and Ucross’s current Director of Development and External Relations, has been named the next President of the organization. Dynak will continue to serve Ucross for several months afterward in an advisory capacity, ensuring a seamless transition.
Dynak moved from New York City to Wyoming in 1996 to join Ucross as Residency Program Director. She was appointed Executive Director of the organization in 2005 and President in 2007.
“It has been a long and exciting adventure and a great honor to work on behalf of contemporary writers, artists, composers, and choreographers — as well as scientists, curators, educators, and others,” said Dynak. “I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside so many creative and dedicated trustees, staff, and other advisors — all of whom have been instrumental in the success of Ucross.”
Prior to Ucross, Dynak spent 15 years in the publicity department of the book publisher Scribner. She was introduced to the organization by award-winning author Annie Proulx, who had spent time as a Ucross resident and is a former Ucross trustee.
During her tenure, Ucross has grown into one of the nation’s most distinguished and distinctive artist residency programs, offering uninterrupted time and studio space to approximately 100 individuals each year. (The organization was founded in 1981 by Raymond Plank, and the residency program welcomed its first artists in 1983.)
The residency experience, expertly stewarded by Dynak since she arrived, is known for its attention to detail, its hospitality, and its artist-centric support, as well as its breathtaking location, sweeping views, and connection to the vast Wyoming landscape. Under Dynak’s leadership, Ucross has helped hundreds of individual artists — from emerging to highly acclaimed — focus on the creation of original work amid this inspiring landscape.
A key program expansion directed by Dynak was the development of numerous national partnerships with prominent national organizations, such as the Sundance Institute, PEN/Hemingway Awards, Herb Alpert Award in the Arts, Pew Fellowships in the Arts, the Aura Estrada Prize, the Marion International Fellowship, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Alley Theatre, and The Ford Family Foundation, among others. In recent years, new partnerships have begun with Cave Canem; the University of Houston’s MFA Program in Creative Writing; Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music; and Yale University’s Schools of Music, Drama, and Visual Art. Regional partnerships with the Wyoming Girls School, the WYO Theater, and the University of Wyoming have also taken place.
Dynak was also instrumental in the vision and creation of the Ucross Fellowships for Native American Visual Artists and Writers, which have provided increased support and program opportunities for Indigenous artists at Ucross.
The Ucross property looks different, too, thanks to Dynak’s participation in various capital projects and improvements during her time, including the creation of two composer studios, a community park with public gardens, a nondenominational chapel, and the Raymond Plank Center. An art gallery in the historic Big Red Barn at Ucross is currently undergoing a renovation to be completed later this year, and ground has been broken for a new dedicated dance studio.
Dynak helped lead the way for the Ucross ranch to be designated an Important Bird Area by the Bighorn Audubon Society, and she has worked closely with the Wyoming Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. During her tenure, Ucross was awarded the Wyoming Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. She currently serves on the board of the Wyoming Arts Council.
The Ucross Board of Trustees has named William Belcher the next President. Belcher has served as Ucross’s Director of Development and External Relations since 2017 and has more than 20 years of experience in art administration with high level positions in development. He has dedicated his career to working with cultural organizations that support artists and the creation of new work.
“As a founding member of the foundation, I can say that Sharon has had a tremendous impact on the organization,” said Jim Nelson, Chair of the Board of Trustees. “Having worked with Bill over the last four years, I’m confident that he will build on our past successes and position Ucross for a bright future. Not only does he bring a proven track record of successful fundraising in the arts, but he also brings a refreshing level of directness, strategic thinking, and professionalism to Ucross. We are excited and pleased that he accepted the role of president at this pivotal moment in our history.”
Prior to Ucross, Belcher served as Director of Development at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) and Director of External Affairs at The Hyde Collection. As a consultant, he has helped dozens of arts organizations with strategic planning, campaign planning, grant writing, fundraising, institutional messaging and board development. His clients have included the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Skidmore College, Collar Works (Elizabeth Murray Artist Residency Program), and others. He has served on the boards of Caffe Lena, a historic folk music venue, and Hubbard Hall Center for the Arts and Education, a community art center. Belcher is also a published novelist whose debut novel, Lay Down Your Weary Tune, was released by Other Press in 2016.
“Ucross is a rare and remarkable place. As Director of Development and External Relations, I’ve had the benefit of working alongside the board, staff and Sharon for more than four years,” Belcher noted. “It’s an honor to be named the next President of this renowned artist residency program, and I look forward to preserving the Ucross experience, championing its alumni artists, and strengthening the organization so that it can continue to serve artists and the community in its awe-inspiring setting for years to come.”
Dynak and Belcher will work together between January and April to implement a thorough transition plan, designed to provide continuity and maintain excellence, as well as continue Ucross’s momentum heading into its 40th anniversary in 2023.
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Ucross Foundation acknowledges with respect that it is situated on the aboriginal land of several Indigenous communities, including the Cheyenne, Crow, and Lakota nations. Indigenous people continue to live in this area and practice their teachings and lifeways. Today, this region remains an important place for many Indigenous peoples. As a Wyoming institution, we recognize and respect this historical context and are working to build reciprocal relationships with the Native nations on whose lands we are situated. In partial fulfillment of that commitment, Ucross established Fellowships for Native American Visual Artists in 2017 and Native American Writers in 2020.