Doreen Kelly Nurtured Fine Arts “Every Step of the Way”

Doreen Kelly Nurtured Fine Arts “Every Step of the Way”
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Stacy Calfo

Through her commitment to fine arts funding, facilities, faculty and students, she has created a lasting legacy of growth, inspiration and support.

It’s fitting that Doreen Kelly’s first year as Head of School was marked by a journey to London to sing alongside a group of Ravenscroft students in Canterbury Cathedral, showing up in a most visible way to affirm that the fine arts were an indispensable part of the school she was now leading.

In the years since, Ravenscroft fine arts students have continued to participate in top-tier international performance opportunities as well as in state and national competitions. In addition, the school has sent graduates to some of the most prestigious fine arts programs in the country and beyond.

“Our global growth is proof of Doreen’s commitment to expanding horizons and nurturing artistic dreams beyond campus borders,” Director of Fine Arts David McChesney said. “We have worked together to make dreams come to reality.”

From the 2003 trip to perform at London’s Canterbury Cathedral — in which Doreen Kelly (at right, wearing necklace) participated — to the 2017 New Year’s Parade in London and beyond, Ravenscroft fine arts students have enjoyed access to top-tier international performance opportunities.

A commitment to funding and facilities

Philanthropy stands as a cornerstone of Kelly’s impact on the fine arts program. Through the establishment and growth of endowments — including the pivotal Hunter Scholars program, which expanded during Kelly’s tenure to support two Upper School students in each class — Ravenscroft has provided indispensable resources for students exploring their passion for the arts. Additionally, gifts made during her tenure, such as the 180-seat young peoples’ theatre and the Morton Courtyard, have expanded the spaces available for fine arts students to hone their crafts.

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: The young peoples’ theatre quickly became the favored venue for the Madrigal Dinner, captured in this photo from the 2006 Corvus; Middle School drama students make use of the Morton Courtyard’s outdoor stage for their performance of “Where the Wild Things Are” in the spring of 2021; visual arts instructor Amelia Karpowitz and her students enjoy her bright, spacious classroom in the Lower School Fine Arts Center in this photo from 2019.

“Our endowments cover everything from equipment and supplies to helping students who can’t afford to take trips or have private lessons,” McChesney explained. “Doreen is leading the way in breaking down any financial barriers for students to participate in our programs.”

As a Ravenscroft parent and the Director of Admission from 2003 to 2013, Pamela Jamison — who also recently served on Ravenscroft’s Board of Trustees — has seen firsthand how Kelly’s leadership has enhanced the school’s reputation, drawing families with the promise of a robust fine arts program.

First-graders put on Wing It! as their class musical in May 2016; Middle School strings students perform at the divisions 2013 Holiday Concert.

“Doreen’s belief in the value of arts education, exemplified through her own children’s participation in the program, became a living testament to the transformative power of the arts for children,” she said. “From an admissions standpoint, Ravenscroft had a strong reputation in arts exposure, with a fully articulated visual and performing arts program beginning at the kindergarten level. This reputation was a direct result of Doreen’s vision for the program.”

McChesney also cited recent projects, such as the 2018 transformation of the Richards Hall Annex into the Lower School Fine Arts Center, as indicative of Kelly’s confidence in the department’s direction. Particularly in the face of nationwide cutbacks in arts programs, Kelly’s commitment to Ravenscroft’s fine arts program shines through.

“Every time there’s been a discussion to cut funding or save money, as many other institutions have done, Doreen hasn’t given in,” he said. “She truly has a ‘yes, and’ attitude – ‘Yes, we need to do this project, AND we can do even more.’ This is an affirmation that not only sustains but propels dreams forward.”

Artwork from students in all three divisions is displayed in the November 2023 Juried Art Show in Pugh Lobby of the Fine Arts Center.

An investment in faculty and students

Kelly’s legacy in Ravenscroft fine arts extends far beyond financial support and facility growth.

She has also championed the fine arts faculty, cultivating an environment of trust and collaboration. McChesney — whom she made the first full-time Director of Fine Arts in 2004 — called her confidence in the fine arts faculty at Ravenscroft “the most valuable legacy Doreen is leaving.”

Retired visual arts teacher Joyce Fillip, who was at Ravenscroft from 1996 to 2020, concurred. She recalled Kelly’s presence at gallery openings, “always with a joyful smile and heartfelt hello. She modeled, by example, the kind of leader who was supportive, sincere and aware of the efforts of our students and teachers, and she always did it with joy and grace.”

The Spring 2009 Ravenscroft Magazine included congratulations to the performing arts students and faculty who recieved seven awards at the Capital Awards Show.

“She impressed me with her sincere interest in having visual art hanging in the offices and throughout the fine arts building and in other locations on campus,” Fillip added. “She also found opportunities for our students to extend their talents beyond the classroom and into the broader community.”

Many of those students took notice of Kelly’s investment in their growth and exploration.

“Doreen instilled a sense of passion for self-expression into the fine arts program and fostered an appreciation for work in the fine arts,” Hunter Scholar Emily Sikkel ’15 said. “This in turn gave me the confidence to apply to the College of Design at NC State and pursue my career as a textile designer, and I am currently living out my dream of designing for the brand Anthropologie. I have to acknowledge that, if it wasn’t for the support of the fine arts program, I’m not sure I’d be where I am today.”

In a reflection of the quality of Ravenscroft’s fine arts programming, the Class of 2018 included eight graduates — Carley Plummer ’18, Amanda Lee ’18, Tori Hogan ’18, Matt Sheaffer ’18, Hannah Ramusevic ’18, Madeline Zucker ’18, Leah Horton ’18 and Maggie DeLeonardis ’18 (not pictured) — headed to arts programs at institutions including Parsons School of Design and NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Hunter Scholar Jenna Seidenfrau ’23, who took full advantage of Ravenscroft’s robust offerings in the performing arts, said she treasured Kelly’s presence at her performances. “I would watch her facial expressions as she sat in the audience of our choir concerts, and she had such a huge smile painted across her face,” she remembered. “It is often the joy found in fine arts that makes them so special, and that is something I always saw in her and really appreciated.”

Alumni parent Gerald Upton — who, as president of the Fine Arts Association recruited other fine arts fathers to serve as stage crew during performances — said Doreen’s support of the fine arts at Ravenscroft made a significant impact on his children, lifers Elizabeth ’04 and Richard ’09.

“They had opportunities to pursue their interests in the fine arts as well as athletics and, of course, academics, and they flourished as a result,” he said, noting that Richard went on to double-major in biology and violin performance. “And it wasn’t just my kids that benefited: Doreen was instrumental in encouraging all of Ravenscroft’s students to explore their potential in all areas.”

In the grand symphony of Ravenscroft’s journey, Kelly’s leadership has been the conductor’s wand, guiding the fine arts program to new heights. As she prepares to take her final bow at the end of this year, her legacy shines brightly — a testament to her belief in the enduring power of the arts in shaping young minds.

“Ravenscroft, as an independent school, has the most robust and well-rounded fine arts program of any school in the state, and that’s because of Doreen’s leadership,” McChesney concluded. “She nurtured us every step of the way and trusted us to grow our vision for our school community.”

Above, the Class of 2023 performs their fifth-grade musical in May 2016.

The 2019 production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” featured students from all three divisions, including Taylor Fagan ’23 and Michael Sisson ’19.


Young Alumni Pursue Their Passions in the Performing Arts (Feb. 9, 2023)

Fine Arts Endowments Nurture Potential and Sustain Programs (Fall 2019)

Lower School Fine Arts: Setting Students Up for Success (Spring 2018)

The New Black Box Theatre Will Further Enhance Fine Arts Department (Summer 2005)