BUCKHANNON – City Council has given the Colonial Arts Center’s board of directors the go-ahead to begin their search for a full-time managing director for the Main Street-based community arts center.
In July 2021, council voted to authorize the creation of the new position when it unanimously approved the concept of a managing director and the position’s job description.
At the time, chair of CAC board John Waltz explained the managing director would oversee the scheduling of events; manage the day-to-day operations of the facility and its finances; develop arts programming; and cultivate external relationships with civic groups and corporate partners.
Waltz and CAC board vice chair Erika Klie Kolenich returned to council’s Nov. 18 meeting to ask for approval to officially begin the search process, which they estimated would take two months.
“We do think it is time to begin the search process for the position that you guys graciously allowed us to bring and talk about before – the full-time position and job description,” Waltz said.
The CAC board needs council’s approval because the city retains ownership of the arts center, which it purchased in 2017. Like the Stockert Youth & Community Center, the CAC operates as a public agency, meaning the board must secure permission from council prior to making financial decisions, such as setting a salary.
Kolenich then outlined what duties the managing director would be tasked with ahead of the CAC officially opening in 2022. Even though the construction of isn’t complete, there’s still plenty for a managing director to do in preparation for a grand opening, she told council.
“I think everybody has the same goal of making sure that on the day the arts center doors are ready to open, that it’s ready to become productive and contribute to the economic vibrancy of downtown Buckhannon,” Kolenich said. “And in order to get it there, somebody has to be in on the front end. The doors aren’t just going to open and voila, the place starts to operate.”
Leading up to CAC’s opening, the board wants the managing director to establish a website and marketing/branding materials; begin to form relationships with civic organizations in the county and region; and meet with partner organizations like Buckhannon Community Theatre, Buckhannon Upshur Camera Club and Upshur County Schools.
“One of the problems that Buckhannon has always had is that there is no central community arts or community events calendar,” Kolenich said. “Our vision is that the director that is put in place at the Colonial Arts Center now can start working on a 2022 community arts and community events center calendar that can be distributed.”
Three other critical duties, Kolenich said, are searching and applying for grant and fundraising opportunities; drafting a facility management plan; and developing arts programming.
Councilman CJ Rylands and city recorder Randy Sanders, who is a member of the CAC board, said they supported approving the search for a managing director.
“You’re right — before you open the doors, there’s a lot of work behind the scenes and a lot of things that have to be worked out,” Rylands said. “I fully support this.”
Councilwoman Pam Bucklew asked Waltz and Kolenich to explain the difference between a CAC managing director, who would be paid initially out of the city’s general fund, and community arts educator, who would be an Upshur County Schools employee paid by the Upshur BOE who works out of the arts center. (Council would pay the managing director’s salary out of the general fund initially; however, city officials hope it will eventually become self-sustaining.)
“Is that not basically going to be the same type of job?” Bucklew asked, and Waltz said no.
“The Board of Education position is geared around working with Upshur County students who are coming to the space and creating education programming only,” he said. “That person is not at all responsible for bookings, contracts, maintenance of the facility, handling all the talent that comes in and out, working with the community organizations – no sort of fundraising whatsoever.”
In contrast, the arts educator’s duties would be “solely built around education.”
Councilwoman Shelia Lewis-Sines suggested the board find a volunteer to handle certain duties until the theater opens.
“You don’t have anyone who’s willing to volunteer time until you’re established, so that we can explain to the city residents — the citizens — that this will be a benefit and not a tax burden?” she asked.
Kolenich argued that hiring a managing director prior to the theater’s opening would actually reduce the tax burden.
“I think that having that person on the front end is actually going to reduce the tax burden because that person is going to be able to make sure that there are funds that aren’t necessarily coming from Buckhannon city taxpayers … such as private fundraising opportunities and developing corporate partnerships,” Kolenich said. “There’s a ton of corporate money out there for things like this; it just takes a dedicated person to go find it, and it’s going to be hard to find a volunteer who’s going to be willing to spend all their time researching and applying for these grants and whatnot.
Lewis-Sines asked about the CAC board’s previous assertion that the theater would be self-sustaining.
“Will it not make enough to pay for the management position instead putting that onto the city?” she asked.
Kolenich said the arts center first needs to attract programming that’s appealing enough to produce enough revenue to fully fund the position, such as ticket sales from visual and performing arts shows and tuition for arts camps.
“Once those things start happening, it would pay for the employee, but it’s going to take an employee to plan those things before those types of tickets and tuition can start,” she said.
Lewis-Sines made a motion to table the request so it could be discussed further, which was seconded by councilman David Thomas.
“I would like to move to table it for further discussion,” Lewis-Sines said. “I know we have some time. It’s not even open at this time.”
Other council members disagreed.
Sanders said council should be wary of what type of message tabling approval of the position would send to the state Department of Arts, Culture and History, a major grant donor.
“Personally, I’d be very disappointed if we tabled it,” Sanders said. “We’ve worked very hard on this theater. The theater is going to open. This is something that the community has shown a great interest in. We have great corporate partners behind it: FirstEnergy and the Department of Arts and Culture have been with us for this entire journey. If we table it now, it’s going to look like we’re turning our backs on this project, but it will be the will of the council.”
Bucklew noted about four years had passed since the city purchased the theater.
“I don’t want this to drag on anymore,” she said. “We’ve gotten a lot of donations, and we’ve invested a lot into it. I’m sure there are people standing in the background waiting to donate moving forward. I think once we do this, people are going to come forward and help even more.”
Mayor Robbie Skinner called for a vote on Lewis-Sines’s motion to table the decision, but she was the only one who voted for it after Thomas attempted to withdraw his second to her motion.
Lewis-Sines explained her vote.
“I love the arts, I love beauty, I think what we’re doing is wonderful, and I think you presented yourself well – please know that,” she said. “But I’m talking about the people’s money and we’re hiring a person for a building that hasn’t been completed yet, and that’s hard. I was just hoping that you could get together and build it – just make it prepared – so we could take it to the people and say, ‘Wow, they’ve worked really hard, and they have this prepared and it’s showing promise and now we’re going to hire someone.’”
A managing director position is integral to the CAC’s vision and has been mentioned in every grant application submitted to the Department of Arts, Culture and History, Waltz said.
“We’re to the point now where we have asked the State of West Virginia for a lot of money, which they have given us and we have made good on, but in every one of those grant applications, we have mentioned a professional managing director and it’s important for us — it’s a big deal,” he said. “We will hold this person to the highest standards.”
“I know if it’s not working, we will be the first ones to tell you it’s not working and you should do something different,” Waltz added. “So, we ask for council’s consideration moving forward with the position.”
Sanders made a motion to approve the search beginning, and councilman Jack Reger seconded it. The motion passed with Sanders, Reger, Rylands, Bucklew and Thomas voting in favor and only Lewis-Sines opposing the motion.
You can read more about the history of the Colonial Theatre restoration project and the partnership between the city and local arts agencies here.