And you thought finding a new Speaker of the House was tough, as my editor noted on Twitter. After two years, CenterStage announced today the hiring of Richmond native and long-time arts advocate Janet Starke as its executive director.
Starke is moving into the role after serving as director of education since 2009, and interim executive director since August. Her first day in her new job begins Nov. 1.
Starke says that the last couple of years have been spent figuring out how to implement CenterStage's strategic plan, which is based on "better conveying and branding ourselves as more than the performing arts center downtown."
In her new role, she says she'll work to not only further regional education programs but also help advocate for local arts groups, who have had some difficulty in the past with costs associated with using CenterStage as a home venue.
"I think we're trying to balance that, with commercial acts and venues, to offset the losses you take supporting the local groups," she says. "We want to continue to be a good advocate and partner with local arts groups, have them in the building and working here, which might involve finding increasing ways of fundraising together."
A year ago, the organization held a fundraiser, Curtains Up, which featured all the resident companies in a preview of the season. But Starke says that events like these likely will come on anniversary years because of the logistical difficulties with season planning and the desire to avoid adding production costs. There are no fundraisers planned now, she says, though she has more autonomy in her new role to explore such options. She uses the potential of collaborating with CultureWorks as an example.
Starke says she's unaware of any momentum within the organization to move from its current bifurcated model -- nonprofit and for-profit working together -- to an entirely nonprofit model as some performing arts centers across the country have done. Any move in that direction would necessarily be part of a much larger conversation with the city, she notes.
"My big focus on the nonprofit side is to achieve success in fundraising for education programming, some nominal arts programming and overall operations," she says. "We inherited this structure [from the city] -- we didn't ask for it. It is a different structure than what you see in a lot of performing arts centers." And because it's nonprofit, she says, "that doesn't mean we don’t operate with sound fiscal intent. We don’t go into this not wanting to make a profit."
Starke says she's excited to take on one of her biggest challenges: increasing the donor base.
"I think people who know me, know I come to the table as a genuine collaborator and supporter," she says. "We're very mission minded. ... I want to help people understand that and come to know us as an organization better."
Former executive director Richard Parison moved on in November 2013 and says he's working as a freelance director.
"Certainly, I think Janet was an excellent director of education," he says. "She has a focus on knowing what the educational needs are in the Richmond region that I think she'll bring to her new position. And I wish her the best of luck."
Here is today's press release:
“We had many outstanding candidates apply for this position, and while resumes came from all over the country, it turned out the person most suited for the position was already within our organization,” said Pamela Royal, Chair of Richmond CenterStage’s Executive Director Search Committee. “She knows the organization’s strengths and challenges, and shares the Board’s vision for moving forward.”
“Janet’s strong relationships with the arts and cultural community in Richmond and her passion for the performing arts will help strengthen Richmond CenterStage’s position as a catalyst for the arts in Richmond. She has the experience we were looking for and the close ties to the arts community that will allow her to hit the ground running with little transition time needed,” said Kathy Strawn, Chair of Richmond CenterStage’s Board of Directors.
Janet is a Richmond region native whose life-long passion for the performing arts dates back to singing in Chester Middle School’s chorus, in Chesterfield County Public Schools. She earned a B.S. in Arts Management from Shenandoah University, and later earned a M.A. in Arts Administration from the University of Cincinnati. Having worked in the field for nearly 20 years, her arts management experience is extensive. She served as Director of Educational Outreach at Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, Interim Managing Director at Barksdale Theatre, and Associate Director for the Education Institute at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, among others. She returned to Richmond in 2009 to be part of the senior management team opening Richmond CenterStage. As Richmond CenterStage’s Director of Education, she directed the implementation of a comprehensive regional arts education plan involving public and private educators in 7 school systems and peers among our resident companies, other arts and cultural organizations and area universities, reaching nearly 30,000 students to date. She is a member of the national Americans for the Arts’ Education Council and serves on the Virginia Commission for the Arts’ Area V grants panel. Janet is active in the Richmond arts community both as a performer in the Richmond Symphony Chorus and a patron of all types of performing arts.
“It was a dream come true for me to return to my hometown in 2009 to be a part of opening a top-tier performing arts center. It has been so rewarding professionally and personally to be part of this organization and I’m very excited to help lead it to the next level. We have had many successes in our short history, including the renovation of Altria Theater, establishing a distinctive arts education program and attracting high-caliber performers to our venues. But I also know that we have much more we can accomplish. I’m more than ready to strengthen our relationships with the various arts groups in Richmond and build a strong financial structure to ensure the long-term success of our organization and its programs,” said Starke.
“I’ve known and worked with Janet ever since Richmond CenterStage opened in 2009, and she has always been someone who actively looks for ways to collaborate with arts groups in Richmond. She has involved many of the resident companies in CenterStage’s arts education programming, and has developed strong relationships with all of them. She firmly believes that if we work together, we can accomplish more; and that approach to the performing arts is what we need,” said David Fisk, Executive Director of the Richmond Symphony and Vice Chair of the Richmond CenterStage Resident Company Association. “I know that she will be a terrific ambassador for Richmond CenterStage and for our performing arts community, and I’m happy that the Board selected her for this important position.”