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Torn by Controversy, Young Arts Group Breaks Away

Opus, an organization of men and women younger than 40 whose mission is to promote performing arts downtown, originated in 2003 as an outgrowth of the foundation. Now it's working to become a nonprofit corporation with bylaws and a board.

"It's like we've grown up and they were our parents," Opus co-chairman Jake Crocker says.

"We got really popular really fast," Crocker says of Opus' membership, which peaked at about 400 young professionals. "But then the [performing arts foundation] started taking hits."

He says the negative publicity prompted Opus to reconsider its status.

"Now we're ready to come out on our own with a bigger force and a louder voice," Crocker says. "And we're going to be a little aggressive about it." The organization's current membership is about 200.

In December, after much angst between the foundation and the city administration over plans for a $112 million performing arts center, officials agreed to work through a committee to determine the needs of the arts community. The committee, appointed by Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, is expected to release its findings this month. A meeting is scheduled for April 5. City spokesman Linwood Norman didn't return a phone message seeking comment.

The new Opus has shifted its mission to focus on the performing arts groups in addition to advocating for improved venues where they can perform. "Everybody's been talking about facilities," Crocker says, "and with all the uncertainty [the performing arts groups] were getting lost in the controversy."

"We're very excited about Opus' focus to get more young professionals engaged in attending performances and expanding their experience," says J. Robert "Bob" Mooney, executive director for the performing arts foundation.

Through promotional efforts and social mixers, Opus plans to work closely with the following groups: the Richmond Ballet, Richmond Symphony, Virginia Opera, Theatre IV, SPARC, Firehouse Theatre, Barksdale Theatre and Encore Theatre Company. More will come, Crocker says.

The group will continue to hold social events and fund-raisers such as its annual Derring-Do gala. A kickoff event for the new Opus is scheduled for April 5 at Cabo's Bistro, located at 2053 W. Broad St. S

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