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CenterStage Counting Down, Still Without Director

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The city's downtown performing arts center, CenterStage, plans to throw open its doors Sept. 12. Celebrity performances are anticipated for the debut — organizers have invited Virginia native Katie Couric — but the presence of one particular eminence remains quietly in question.

Next week the CenterStage Foundation, the facility's nonprofit fundraising arm, hits the one-year mark for running without an executive director.

“We've begun the process and hope to have that person on board before the end of September,” says Jay Smith, a spokesman for CenterStage. He says the foundation is not yet actively hiring because its members haven't settled on “the skill set, expertise and experience that we want this person to have.”

Local businessman L. Robert Mooney has been filling in on a volunteer basis. He took the reins in December 2005 after the foundation's first executive, Brad Armstrong, stepped down after fundraising troubles and controversy over his $275,000 salary. Mooney stepped in again last April when Linda Dalch Jones left after a year in the job, for which she was paid $150,000.

The foundation's fundraising efforts are critical to local arts groups that hope the money will offset rental costs for those performing in the city-owned facility that's been financed, in part, by a $25 million investment from the city and millions more in state and federal tax credits.

It's unclear what donations will total for the fiscal year ending in June, but the foundation raised $2 million in private money in fiscal 2008 compared with nearly $20 million in 2007. Smith cautions that the larger charitable haul came during sunnier economic times.

The organization's status without a full-time leader has some people concerned, says Christina Newton, director of Curated Culture, the group that manages the First Fridays Art Walk.

“Certainly any organization needs strong leadership at the helm and CenterStage isn't immune from that need,” she says. “They need to hire someone soon.”

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