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Remembering Colleen McLaughlin

It is with great sadness that Arts Midwest shares the news of the passing of Colleen McLaughlin on August 6, 2020. A joyful friend, committed colleague, and champion for the arts, Colleen’s deep belief in broadening access to creativity helped steward and sustain support for the arts across the Midwest.

Arts Midwest remembers our colleague and friend, Colleen McLaughlin. Photo by Joshua Feist.

President Emeritus David Fraher, who worked closely with Colleen throughout her tenure at Arts Midwest, shared, “Colleen’s contributions to our organization cannot easily be measured or enumerated. The keen skills that she brought to her work in development—her strong capacity to build and nurture relationships; her ability to listen to and empathize with others; her strong sense of curiosity—each of these also made her a great mentor, an exemplary team builder, and a wonderful colleague. Our work together will always be among the highlights of my time at Arts Midwest. I join my colleagues at Arts Midwest, in the region, and across the country, who knew and loved Colleen, in sending heartfelt sympathy and support to her family and friends.”

Colleen came to Arts Midwest from the Ordway Center for Performing Arts in 2005 as the director of external relations and served in that role for ten years before being named Vice President of Advancement in 2017. She served in that role until late 2019 when it became time to focus on her health.

Colleen’s tenure at Arts Midwest is marked by many accomplishments, including:

  • Stewarding major sponsorships for national and international tours of exhibitions such as Russell Wright: Living with Good Design; Symphonic Poem: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson; The Somali Diaspora: A Journey Away; and Modern Spirit: The Art of George Morrison
  • Diversifying and expanding contributed support for the Arts Midwest Conference
  • More than quadrupling the number of individual donors to Arts Midwest’s operating fund; and,
  • Perhaps closest to her heart, leading efforts to secure on-going private support for Arts Midwest World Fest, a global music and cultural exchange program serving small to mid-sized Midwestern communities

While Colleen had a deep impact within Arts Midwest and its communities, it was often felt most fully in her relationships with colleagues.

“I met Colleen at the Ordway when we were just exploring how to produce an international children’s festival. She was instrumental in helping to launch this program that is now, almost 20 years later, still going strong,” reflects Sharon DeMark, Program Officer at Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation. “I loved working with Colleen – she brought such warmth to everything she did. Mostly I recall her amazing smile, large and genuine. And her laugh – I loved her laugh. When she got the job at Arts Midwest, I was just so thrilled for her. She loved working there and I was overjoyed that in my job at the Foundation, I would have opportunities to see her and interact with her again. Last year we met for lunch and talked about our kids. She was such a devoted and ultra-loving mom. My life is richer because I had the chance to know Colleen.”


The Arts Midwest staff, board, and community extend our deepest condolences to Colleen’s family, especially her husband, Chris Reams, and her sweet and beloved son, Colin, during this difficult time. Those wishing to honor her memory are encouraged to support two organizations dear to her heart and family, Gigi’s Playhouse and Ruby’s Rainbow.