Executive Spotlight: Cheryl Mirer, executive director, Downtown Pittsfield Inc.
PITTSFIELD — Cheryl Mirer has an eclectic professional resume.
Mirer, a painter, has held positions in the arts and in education, headed two small community libraries, served as a volunteer in the Peace Corps, worked in food service, has been a kitchen and bath designer, and even helped a group of volunteers create a dog park in Potsdam, N.Y.
She originally came to the Berkshires in 2007 to work in institutional advancement at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, before leaving the area for other opportunities But, Mirer returned to the area three years ago, when she became executive director of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., a group that advocates on behalf of downtown businesses. Her husband, Eric Jesner, is the business manager of the Farmington River Elementary School in Otis.
We spoke with the Otis resident about her previous occupations, her love of the community, and why a woman who grew up in Connecticut and has lived, worked or gone to school in Boston, Ghana, New York state and South Carolina considers the Berkshires to be home.
Q: How did you get involved in all of these different fields?
A: I started my career with a degree in fine arts from UMass [Amherst], and then worked in a variety of jobs until I went back and got my master's in arts administration from Boston University and graduated in 2005. Prior to that, I worked as the director of a tiny library in New York.
I loved working for a nonprofit, I loved the community aspect [of] working with people and working for my community.
The advice that I got from my professors and advisers in graduate school was to work in development in higher education. Simon's Rock was my first job after my master's. We moved to the Berkshires in 2007, and I worked at Simon's Rock for five years in alumni affairs. That really gave me a lot of experience in event planning and fundraising and leadership.
Q: Why did you leave the Berkshires?
A: I took a job in South Carolina [as director of an artist-in-residence program], which I loved. That set me right in the middle of arts and culture in Spartanburg, which is a beautiful city, but we were only there for about a year and a half because they didn't have financial stability, which I didn't know when I got the job.
We tried to move back to the Berkshires at that point, but we were unable to get jobs. My husband got a job in Potsdam, N.Y., so we moved to Potsdam and, again, I became the director of a tiny library. I was in a community organization, a very small community, and I loved that.
Then I went to work for Clarkson University in the corporate and financial relations department, and I helped professors and department heads write grants for community foundations and corporate foundations. So, I found another skill — grant writing. But, what was missing for me from that job was the community aspect. ... So, when we were looking again at coming back to the Berkshires after five years in Potsdam, I found this job for Downtown Pittsfield Inc., which I had known about when I was living in South County. ... I was a little bit familiar with Pittsfield, so, when I saw that job posting, I said, "That is me. That's exactly I want."
Q: Why did this job stand out?
A: Because I love that community-building, relationship-building world. I love to work with people. I wanted to understand Pittsfield more as a vibrant community of people and businesses. And I wanted to learn more about working hand in hand with the community and what goes into being a small business in Pittsfield.
It was an opportunity for me to grow my career in the field of nonprofit community work.
Q: What do you like about working in a community?
A: People, which I'm not around much now because of COVID-19 ... and making a difference in the lives of others.
Q: What job field that you've worked in do you like the best?
A: I love the arts. I will always love the arts. But, that is a tricky field to be in because of the funding and the sustainability. I love where I am now. I love being at Downtown Pittsfield Inc. I think it's my best gig yet.
Q: Describe DPI's framework for those who don't know what your organization does.
A: DPI is a nonprofit, membership-based downtown association. Sometimes I explain it like being a mini-chamber of commerce, but with a downtown footprint. ... We advocate for our businesses. We've also been described as a merchants' group, but we're not just a merchants' group, because we have members that are nonprofits.
Our members are nonprofits, large businesses like Interprint and everybody in between. We have about 200 members right now. That's down a little bit from last year.
Q: How has the pandemic affected your organization?
A: Right at the beginning we knew we would have to do something to support businesses, so, we started this online gift card store, which took off. It brought in over $21,000 for downtown businesses. ... Next, we want to launch a redemption model gift card, which we plan to launch before Small Business Saturday [the last Saturday in November]. ... We have a lot of work to do before we can launch it.
Q: When you came back to the Berkshires three years ago, you told The Eagle that Western Massachusetts "always felt like this was our home." Why?
A: I feel pretty secure in saying that because I've lived in a lot of places. We just love it here. It's beautiful, the community is amazing ... this just feels like home.
Q: The town you come from in upstate Connecticut isn't that far from Berkshire County. Did you come up to the Berkshires when you were younger?
A: Not at all ... I didn't know about the Adirondacks, either. When I went to UMass, you're 18 and you go to college and the world sort of opens up for you.
Q: At the end of your initial interview with The Eagle after taking the job at DPI, after the organization's funding had been cut substantially, you said you wanted to "get stuff done." Would you describe yourself as a doer?
A: I'm definitely a doer, yes. I love event planning and execution. ... That's just a huge passion of mine.
Q: It must be very gratifying to have done so many different things in your professional career.
A: It's gratifying, but I think it's also made me a more well-rounded executive. ... I'd never worked in a municipality before, so, I find this very rewarding because I find out how a city works. ... I didn't really know where I was taking my career, but I feel I got really lucky at DPI.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.