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This month marked the 20th anniversary of Taliesin Preservation’s Executive Director and dynamic leader, Carrie Rodamaker. Rising up the ranks with her unique combination of determination and positivity, Rodamaker and her team have helped return Frank Lloyd Wright’s beloved Taliesin home and estate into the awe-inspiring place it is today.
Rodamaker, who grew up in nearby Cross Plains, reflected sheepishly, “I saw Taliesin as a kid but never knew what it was.” After a short career in the medical field in Madison, she decided to follow her heart and went back to her roots. In 2002, she applied for a job as a gift shop attendant and the rest is history.
“I always knew I wanted to work for a nonprofit. My parents volunteered and I knew I wanted to find a way give back.” At the time, Taliesin was very local-centric and even Rodamaker, who grew up a stone’s throw away, felt like an outsider.
She worked her way up the proverbial ladder, remaining in the gift shop for over six years before becoming head of operations, which meant adding tours and facilities to her growing list of responsibilities.
Through a twist of fate, Rodamaker became interim director in 2016. True to her values of giving back, she wanted to spare the organization the high price of hiring a ‘real’ director. Rodamaker told the board, “If you hire me instead, we could save on a director’s salary” and use the money to fix the dire septic system and gray water issues. She was told to throw her hat in the ring and soon became the official Executive Director.
“In the beginning, being in senior leadership wasn’t hard because there were so few people and most people were self-governing.” But as time has passed, the team has grown, along with her role. “I just wanted everyone to work together as a team,” and as a result of her unwavering vision and inclusiveness, she began to move the organization forward.
“I don’t like the attention. It’s never one person – but a group all headed in the right direction. If I’m successful, it’s because I have smart people working with me.” She reiterated this fact by quoting the aphorism, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you need to find a new room.” She also believes in building a good work culture so people want to come to work – “because when that happens, you get good results!”
“I have a passion for this place. The buildings and estate evoke so much emotion. I love it because it’s so personal – and it’s right here in our state! Frank Lloyd Wright put this place on the map.”
Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “The mission of an architect is to help people understand how to make life more beautiful, the world a better one for living in, and to give reason, rhyme, and meaning to life.” Rodamaker similarly envisions Taliesin as a place for the community to convene, facilitate conversations, and discuss ways to make life better. She advocates forming partnerships with local artisans, farmers, indigenous people, and other initiatives related to the Driftless Region.
When asked what she’d like to see going forward, Rodamaker replied with a half-serious laugh, “A kick-ass restaurant that brings the community over the bridge!” She wants to revitalize, and bring back Wright’s vision, of Riverview Terrace as a place to dine, build community, promote learning by doing, and celebrate the fact that this is the only Wright-designed restaurant in the world. She also wants to expand programming for more immersive opportunities, to diversify, and go beyond architecture to include design, art, farming, culinary experiences, and more.
Furthermore, she’d like to expand the tourist season and fill the buildings with life even in the wintertime, including more holiday programming. She’d like to see more retreats and workshops with prominent business leaders, sharing the ‘power of place’ with their employees the way that Wright was famous for with his apprentices, while utilizing the indoor and outdoor entirety of the 800-acre estate. She’d like to work with area chefs and local farmers to develop events and farm dinners, as well as stronger alliances with other area attractions. She’s looking forward to further promoting the Driftless Region and Frank Lloyd Wright Trail.
“Economic development is very important to us. We want to diversify and increase our audience, showing people the best of the state – and we’re so proud to have UNESCO World Heritage status to highlight and celebrate both domestically and internationally.”
Rodamaker has a lot on her plate – and will need the next 20 years and plenty of staff at her side to accomplish these goals. Based on past performance, it seems duly attainable.