Having benefited from his predecessor’s wisdom, new McLean Community Center (MCC) executive director Daniel Phoenix Singh intends to launch a raft of new programs and events during his first six months on the job.
“It feels a little bit like I’m drinking from the fire hydrant,” said Singh, who began his $150,000-per-year new job April 12. “But it’s nice to be in an exciting place. The staff are all really talented and creative, so that gives me energy to do the work that needs to be done.”
Singh succeeded George Sachs, who retired May 7 after leading the center for 11 years, and plans to follow Sachs’ habit of listening to the community.
Starting in September, the community center will hold at least three public listening sessions with the public. Center leaders that month also will bring in three groups to take part in strategic planning with board members and staff. MCC also will seek input from county staff and elected officials, Singh said.
“We want to make sure we build all of our plans in synergy as opposed to working in silos,” he said.
Among the center’s new events under Singh will be a poetry celebration for Asian and Pacific Heritage Month and a Pride Month in June. The center will continue its Seniors in Action project and resurrect its former artist-in-residence program, which will not be affiliated with McLean Project for the Arts, located upstairs at the facility.
The center also will launch a place-making project to install murals, with the aim of fully activating the facility by getting patrons to use all parts of the building. Staff member Jennifer Garrett is examining the prospect of projecting light onto the center’s walls for various events.
Center spokesman Sabrina Anwah will begin a community blog, which will be supplemented by residents’ postings, Singh said.
Over at the center’s Old Firehouse facility in downtown McLean, director Andrew Carter is looking to bring back block parties, which were put in abeyance during the pandemic.
MCC Governing Board members have indicated they want Singh to maximize use of the building and work with organizations that otherwise would not have access to the space.
“People often look at McLean and think it’s a well-connected, well-privileged, community,” he said. “But there are families in McLean that are on the free-lunch program. There are teens in McLean who are couch-surfing and seniors who might not have access to everything we think they have.”
The center also will try to form relationships with Child and Family Services and other organizations outside McLean to fill gaps in services, he said.
Another project will be making initial preparations for the center’s 50th-anniversary celebrations in 2025.
Singh has held both non-profit and government jobs and said the community center combines both those sectors to have more impact.
“It gives us flexibility to be innovative and respond to the needs on the ground, while having the stability and infrastructure of the county government,” he said.
Singh has been impressed by MCC’s Alden Theatre, which had state-of-the-art equipment installed during the center’s recent renovation and expansion. He also marveled that many of the center’s staffers have been there for 15 to 20 years.
“That spoke really highly about their dedication to the organization,” he said. “It’s really hard to find a place where people stay that long nowadays.”
Suzanne Le Menestrel, who chairs MCC’s Governing Board and led the search committee to find Sachs’ successor, said she looks forward to hearing Singh’s ideas for celebrating the community’s diversity.
“We are also interested in ensuring that the MCC has a stronger presence in our community and offers fun, engaging and thoughtful programming for all ages of residents,” Le Menestrel said.
Singh, who lives near Rockville, grew up in the city of Chennai in southern India. He came to the United States in 1990 after finishing high school and earned a bachelor’s degree in dance from the University of Maryland in Baltimore. He later received master’s degrees in fine arts from University of Maryland in College Park and in business administration from Georgetown University.
Since 2003, he has served as artistic and executive director of Dakshina/Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company. The group paused its efforts last year during the pandemic, and Singh now is taking a wait-and-see approach, given his new duties in McLean.
Singh most recently worked for about 18 months as division chief of tourism and cultural arts for Baltimore County, Md. After the pandemic struck last March, he spent his time obtaining COVID-related grants to support artists.
He previously spent nearly 20 years with the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The association sought to use education to solve the world’s complex needs, he said.
“Everything is interrelated,” Singh said. “The education work helped me see how everything is connected and how for us to solve any problem, we really have to get an understanding of the larger issue that’s happening in the community and do whatever we can to address it locally.”
In his off hours, Singh gardens and stays active by bicycling, either outdoors on the road or indoors on a stationary bike.