Edna Southard leaves council and legacy in city’s arts community


Photo provided by Edna Southard

Edna Southard, who stepped down after two terms on Oxford City Council, plans to travel and continue to volunteer around the city.

By Alice Momany

Tucked away in the bottom of Edna Southard’s wallet lies a crumpled piece of paper with the words “bucket list” scrawled across the top with numerous items crossed off, yet many still left to do. Luckily, her schedule is about to clear up.

 For the past eight years, Southard, 76, has served on Oxford City Council, but after the end of her second term Nov. 22, she was term-limited and stepped down. 

 “I learned that I love to work with people, and I love the opportunity to bring people together,” Southard said, reflecting on the past eight years.

 During Southard’s time on city council, she actively worked to preserve and support art in Oxford.

 She was a founding member of the Public Arts Commission of Oxford (PACO), which promotes and funds public art in the community.

 Joe Prescher, an independent artist in Oxford and a member of PACO, said that even outside of her role on city council, Southard is eager to help freelance artists in the community.

 “She’s been a really big help in terms of me actually getting some projects done and finishing some things for city council,” Prescher said.

 Southard has also worked closely with the city’s Historic and Architectural Preservation Commission (HAPC). HAPC serves to protect and enhance historical sites in Oxford.

 In the summer, Southard helps HAPC lead tours in historic districts of Oxford, such as Mile Square and West Park Place.

 “One of the things that Dr. Southard was passionate about was leading tours for the HAPC and just really breathing life into that history,” said Alexandria French, who won one of the council seats vacated by Southard and Mayor Mike Smith, who also retired. 

 French will take over for Southard as the council Representative for HAPC.

 “It’s definitely big shoes to fill,” French said. “She did such an incredible job in her role, not only on the council but on HAPC.”

 Southard always remained dedicated to the citizens of Oxford.

 “I feel that I represent not just the people who voted for me but everybody, because whether you voted for me or not, this is our community, and we have to take care of each other,” Southard said.

 Prescher said that citizens such as Southard are important for smaller cities like Oxford because of her ability to connect with others.

“She’s really instrumental in kind of getting things done,” Prescher said. “She’s really good at networking and connecting different efforts and different people to get things done.”

 Those connections stem from a long history of involvement in Oxford. Before Southard sought to bring art into the community, she served as the curator at the Miami University Art Museum.

 Southard started her position as the curator of collections and exhibitions at the museum in 1980 and served for almost 30 years before retiring in 2006.

 “Those two reasons — the people and excellent collection — are why I stayed for my whole career,” Southard said.

 As curator, she focused on diversifying the artists in the university’s collection.

 She said her favorite piece that she curated was “Conservatory (Portrait of Frida Kahlo,”  a painting by Miriam Schapiro. The painting depicts Frida Khalo, an influential female artist.

 “I think building our collection in terms of more art by women, more art by African-American and Jewish artists has been very important to what I did at the museum,” Southard said.

 As a Jewish immigrant herself, Southard’s passion for diversity in art stemmed from her own experiences.

 In 1946, Southard and her family fled Cairo, Egypt, which was under British control during World War II, because her parents felt that there was no future for Jews in Egypt.

 They moved to Elmhurst, NY and lived in a shoebox apartment above an Italian grocery store.

 In 1953, Southard, who was 7-years-old, became a U.S. citizen which allowed her to participate in local government 60 years later.

 Now that her time on city council is over, Southard can return to her bucket list, which  has grown quite long.

 “The first thing I’m going to do is kind of push back a little bit and kind of catch my breath,” Southard said. “I think what’s next is I’d like to plan some travel, but I think I’m going to spend more time with friends.”

 Near the top of her bucket list is to travel to northern Spain, Sicily, and back to Egypt and Madrid. She wants to finish writing her memoir and eventually publish it, and she said she might even run for city council again after sitting out a term.

 “I’m really excited to see where the next two years take her, and if it takes her back to city council, Oxford’s really lucky to have her,” French said. “And if it takes her to another component of service in town, then we’re lucky to have her there as well.”