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Dayna Del Val, Published November 04 2013

Del Val: Saying goodbye to an arts giant

Sometimes there are giants who tread among us so gently and silently it’s easy to not notice them.

We lost one of those giants last week.

Erin Koffler, Microsoft employee, Mensa member, wife, friend and unbelievable arts supporter, left us far too soon at only 47 years old, but she also left a wonderful legacy of truly joyful investment in the arts that we would all do well to embrace.

I first met Erin three years ago when I was hired as the executive director of The Arts Partnership. At the time, she was an integral part of our communications committee and served as secretary on our board. She was was involved with a grant project called ArtsLab.

Erin and I spent long car rides together, driving to remote locations for multi-day training sessions. We talked about everything we had in common, the ways we differed, and we became friends.

Erin, her husband, Monte, and their two corgis, Ralphie and Winston, live in my neighborhood, so I crossed paths with them many times over the years, walking our dogs and enjoying the beauty of our streets.

But then I started to see Erin everywhere. She and Monte were at the gallery and museum openings, the Performing Arts Series at Minnesota State University Moorhead, the productions at all the various theaters in town, the symphony, Studio Crawl and so much more. Erin was not an artist herself, but she was an avid supporter of artists and arts organizations.

And here’s the thing: Erin didn’t just attend events. She generously put considerable resources into the organizations about which she was most passionate. Her time, her dollars, her skill set and her quiet voice of reason extended benefits far beyond The Arts Partnership.

I didn’t go to Erin’s house until about two years ago. We met over a glass of wine to discuss the CSA (community supported art), a new program she wanted to bring to The Arts Partnership. She had heard about it on Minnesota Public Radio and was excited about the possibility of bringing it to Fargo.

I walked in and was astounded at the significant number of art pieces hanging in Erin and Monte’s house. This was yet another way she supported the arts. She knew when they had purchased each piece and who each artist was. Did I mention she was in Mensa?

Erin used Microsoft’s incredible matching dollars to support her passion, and she financially fed many non-profits. She carefully selected her organizations and was diligent in keeping track of her volunteer hours so that those dollars reached the organizations, too.I keep thinking about everything I learned from Erin. All the times she invited me to lunch at the Microsoft campus, or as I like to call it, “Oz,” for meetings to talk about an issue or opportunity for The Arts Partnership. She never inserted her opinion until I asked for it, and her views were always thoughtful. She would typically sit through an entire board meeting without saying a word, but her secretary’s notes were impeccable and told the exact information necessary for moving forward.

Erin could have boasted about her investment in this community and the arts, but that wasn’t her style. She wasn’t flashy or loud; she was a quiet presence who I and many others were lucky to call board member, colleague and friend. She could always be counted on for support and reason.

Our arts community needs more supporters like Erin. Buying tickets are one way to show support, but volunteering hours and skills, inviting others to attend events, giving additional dollars, and being available to listen and not judge are actually what we lost with Erin’s absence.

My hope is that as an arts community we can gather in this time of terrific sadness and find a way to celebrate and continue the legacy Erin started.

Dayna Del Val, executive director of The Arts Partnership, writes a monthly column for Variety. For more information on the arts, go to http://theartspartnership.net.