One Year Later: The Liza Ledford Touch at the Oxford Community Center


Towards the end of this interview, Liza Ledford, Executive Director at Oxford Community Center (OCC), summarized the past year since taking over. She hoped, she said, that people who came to the center would leave inspired. She also wanted OCC to remain relevant. In retrospect, this seems to be precisely what’s happened. Then again, this is what Ledford knows best. Before OCC, some of her production and marketing skills were put to use in the Hollywood film and entertainment industry for the likes of Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, and Sony Studios. “Working in the movies or in other marketing capacities, it’s always been about selling an experience. You’re not selling an item that people can go home with, and you’re not selling anything tangible. I want people to have a positive and moving experience. That has carried over from all my jobs,” she said.

Liza Ledford, Executive Director, Oxford Community Center

This talent converts well for the growth that OCC saw in 2018, made possible by the generosity of annual fund donors. For Ledford her year began with getting to know the community, figuring out the personality and spirit of Oxford. “It was a wonderful year of learning,” she says. “This town has the most unbelievable people—really eclectic, really sophisticated, really concerned and passionate. It’s hard to find something that will wow them, and that’s been the fun of getting to know this town for me.”

Finding something new and different was only part of the challenge. Ledford also learned that the community appreciates and is loyal to what has been successful in the past, including a St. Patrick’s Day and 4th of July event, an appearance by The Fabulous Hubcaps, Casino Night, model boat show, etc. In between these larger events are the daily, weekly, or monthly programs, some new and some ongoing, that are a major part of their role to serve Oxford and beyond. These include: Aerial Fabric Exercise workshops, meditative yoga (Anahata) classes, games and trivia nights, cooking, health and art classes, a possible collaboration with Tred Avon Players, Oxford Kid’s Camp, Cars and Coffee, etc.

On a grander scale and with an eye towards the future, Ledford continues to nurture the connections she created last year. One partnership that extended outside of Oxford brought to the Center the sold-out Anderson Twins jazz concert in December. The joint project with Chesapeake Music’s Jazz on the Chesapeake attracted people beyond Talbot county. “We can’t afford to do this on our own, but with partnerships, we can bring this kind of amazing talent to Oxford,” she said, citing how local businesses, B&Bs, restaurants, stores, etc. benefitted. Current discussions include bringing bi-annual prestigious jazz events to OCC, with the next offering being Sammy and the Congregation on May 25th.

Cars and Coffee

Currently on her radar are the preparations for one of OCC’s most popular events, the Fine Arts Fair, which this year celebrates its 35th anniversary on May 17-19. Whatever Ledford and her group are doing, the Economic Development and Tourism office has taken notice. “They’re pitching us to destination and travel writers, and we have to give them something to talk about. We have to let people know why they need to come to Oxford that weekend.” Crediting Jody Ware, OCC’s Fine Arts Coordinator, Ledford says: “This year Jody’s intention is on the artists themselves. She’s broadened her outreach to national level artists so the caliber will continue to be better this year than even in the past. It’s going to be exciting to see who will be here and how we can make the experience of coming here just a little more dynamic with the whole town. Which is why the tourism board said they’d pitch us, and that’s never happened before.” With help from partners and sponsors, she envisions expanding the Fair into a Festival and offering not only incredible art and artists but also attracting foodies, local winery and craft brewers, all while celebrating the 35 years of history in Oxford.

In planning stages are self-guided walking tours for that weekend and then again on July 14th for Paint Oxford Day during Plein Air. The tours, which will be Oxford specific, will categorize vanishing landscapes, and highlight the influence that water has on culture and life. “One of the impacts Oxford had is when Holland Island disappeared because of water,” she said. “We inherited some of those homes, and we inherited people from other islands that have disappeared. So, we’re going to identify some of the Holland houses, maybe invite some artists to paint some of these special places, the Art Academy can offer a watercolor workshop. This is how it spirals, with one conversation leading to the next and becoming a great partnership.”

Paint Oxford Day

Another alliance being cultivated is a collaboration with Busy Graham from Carpe Diem Arts to bring music to OCC. “(Graham) has her finger on the pulse of who is new and accessible and around the region,” says Ledford. “So, working with her as our curator, if you will, she’s going to supply us with some great music, and we can have a Friday night lounge kind of vibe, more regularly. If you’re coming to the Eastern Shore for the weekend and you want to do something we’re going to have some music going on more often.” Watch for the February 8th Black History Month Concert, which will be the next partnership with Carpe Diem Foundation & John Wesley Preservation Society.

Other events recently added to the calendar include:
March 30, 31 – Mr. Morris, Mr. Morris Spoken Word Show in partnership w/TAP & RMI
April 5th – Sara Jones
May 26 – Broadway Jukebox 2 – in partnership with Brown Box Theatre
June 21-23 – Shore Shakespeare
Oct. 18 -20 – Garden Club hosting 12 clubs

As Ledford shared her vision for even beyond this year, it’s hard to not circle back to the experience and enthusiasm she brings to OCC and the partnerships she hopes to expand. “I would love us to be an extension of all the great venues in this area like The Avalon or the Academy Art Museum. I want us to be known for finding unique things. I want people to ask, ‘How did they get that person?’ I want people to say, ‘I better buy my ticket today, or it’s going to be sold out.’ I definitely want us to have our own personality. I want people to be curious about what we’re doing next. I want us to be another venue that everyone wants to know about; I want them to ask: ‘what unique cool things did they produce?’ I want people to be exposed to Oxford and its uniqueness. That’s what keeps me so excited. It’s always so fresh; there’s always someone new who walks in and has a story or connection. How to fit everything in and how to make sure everyone knows about what’s going on is always my day-to-day quest.”

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Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.

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