Ten years ago this month, Ann Smith was named executive director of Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs, replacing her mother, Francine Kelly, who had run the community nonprofit since 2003.

That makes 17 years that black women have been at the helm of Featherstone, which was founded by women in 1996 and has had female leadership since the beginning, Ms. Smith said.

“That has never been something that we’ve ever touted or shouted from the rooftops, but I think that’s saying something,” she told the Gazette Tuesday afternoon, in a conversation on the deck outside the center’s art barn.

As the center, which among other things is known for its children’s art classes and programs along with instruction programs for adults, prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary next year, the former horse farm uphill from Barnes Road is quieter now than before the pandemic, but some socially-distanced activities have resumed.

“Right now, we can only have six people in a painting class — but when those six people come, they are the happiest six people,” Ms. Smith said.

Opening receptions for group shows at the art barn, once a monthly tradition drawing hundreds of people, are on hold indefinitely, although a series of socially-distanced Monday evening concerts will take place in the grove behind the building starting Sept. 14, Ms. Smith said.

Featherstone Center for the Arts was founded in 1996 and has been thriving ever since. — Jeanna Shepard

The center also is preparing to reopen the Francine Kelly Gallery with a group show, suspended since March, of artworks featuring the color yellow. Bright blue, curving lines and arrows on the gallery floor now indicate a one-way walking pattern for safer viewing of the paintings, photographs, ceramics, jewelry and other works on display.

Ms. Kelly, who died in 2017, raised her four daughters to not only appreciate the arts, but to seek them out, Ms. Smith said.

“My father was a pediatric radiologist and was in the Air Force,” she said. “We traveled the world [and] as soon as we were settled on a base in Turkey or Switzerland, Mom would take us to the art museum.

“The arts have always been a calming, reassuring, entertaining avenue for us.”

Back in the U.S., the family lived in Indianapolis, where Ms. Kelly was the longtime program director for the city’s children’s museum. They summered in Oak Bluffs, where Ms. Kelly first visited in 1951 to see her grandfather preach at Trinity Episcopal Church.

“We grew up on Tuckernuck,” recalled Ms. Smith, who now lives year-round in her twin sister Janis’s home on Nashawena avenue.

Janis, who co-founded Featherstone’s chocolate festival, is a business executive, a career Ms. Smith said she also explored after graduating from the University of Michigan with a double major in art history and economics.

“I decided the corporate world was not for me and started teaching,” she said.

Her other two sisters have lives in the arts, Ms. Smith added, one as a photographer and the other as a curator.

“We happily fell into the arts, based on an incredible role model in my mom.”

Ms. Kelly became Featherstone’s first full-time executive director within weeks of retiring from the museum in Indianapolis in early 2003. Five years later, Ms. Smith followed her mother to the Vineyard full-time, first as her assistant at Featherstone and later as the center’s associate director.

In 2010, the Featherstone board unanimously confirmed her as Ms. Kelly’s successor.

“We essentially switched places,” said Ms. Smith, who has overseen Featherstone’s expansion to year-round programming, a multi-million dollar capital campaign and the development of the art barn, which opened in 2017 and remains the Island’s only purpose-built community art gallery.

“My board treasurers have been amazing,” Ms. Smith said. “They have helped us dream our dreams.”

Other improvements over the past 10 years include the addition of a jewelry-making studio and Featherstone’s partnership with Noepe Center for the Literary Arts, which has been conducting workshops remotely during the pandemic.

In 2016, Ms. Kelly and Ms. Smith received the Creative Living Award from the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard, in recognition of their contributions to the Island arts scene.

“We’re just so happy that our community likes what we do,” Ms. Smith said. “They’re loyal. They’re engaged.”

That loyalty and engagement, coupled with the center’s solid financial footing—there’s no mortgage, and its endowment has grown — has kept Featherstone afloat through the pandemic.

“We are not in any threat of our doors closing,” Ms. Smith said.

“My biggest challenge is planning in the unknown — but to a certain extent, that’s what we’ve always done [as] a community arts center,” she said. “We depend on our donors and the public to support us.”