Occupation: Executive Director of the Academy Center of the Arts
Hometown: Amherst, Va.
What does your current job entail?
I lead the organization’s programming, strategic planning and operations.
Our organization includes a flexible black box theatre, two art galleries, a pottery studio and an arts education facility. We are also in the middle of a facility expansion with the addition of a 750-seat historic theatre.
How do you explain the intersection of the arts and community development?
On a basic level, the arts build a healthy community. They gather people together to have a shared experience. When this happens, people intersect, exchange ideas, and community is formed. Arts activity also increases foot traffic, which leads to an increase in public safety and provides a large lift to local commerce.
What’s coming up for the Academy in 2016?
We are hosting the work of local artists and local arts organizations in multiple artistic genres, and we are offering a wide range of youth and educational programming. We are also bringing in professional artists like the American Shakespeare Center, Chicago’s Second City and the Aeolus Quartet.
When you were younger, did you know what you wanted to do?
How did you arrive where you are today?
As a high school student, I wanted to be an actor. While training to be an actor, I realized that what I truly wanted was to shape the overall theatrical experience for people, so I moved to directing. To facilitate my directing work I formed a theatre company. From there, I realized I loved using my company’s work to engage my community directly. Making this jump to the Academy is continuing my exploration of community service.
What were the early days of running Endstation Theatre like?
Exciting and challenging. Endstation was formed by a great group of artists that I met in graduate school. We were a family, and we cared deeply for each other, the work and this community. The possibilities and future seemed limitless.
What did you learn?
I learned to listen. I learned to pay attention to what my community needed and/or wanted. I had to care deeply about the work we produced, but it was important that my production choices started with listening and observing my community.
Is there anything you would change in retrospect?
I wish I had lived in Virginia full time sooner. For three years I taught at a college in Daytona Beach, Fla. I would travel back to Virginia in the summer to run Endstation. It was really difficult to grow the company from offsite, particularly when we were so community focused.
What excites you the most about the work that you are doing now?
I think a great city has a great arts center. I think we have an incredible opportunity to make a meaningful impact on Lynchburg and the surrounding area. I live downtown, and I can feel a growing excitement about the revitalization happening around us. We are bringing something back to life. A healthy Academy means incredible things for this revitalization effort. New restaurants, shops and destinations will continue to materialize with our help.
What are some challenges you’ve faced over the years?
I have fallen on my face many times. Producing artistic work or organizing events is difficult to practice. You just have to do it. This means your failure is public. I have produced shows no one attended, and I have created work that was lousy. I learned more from those failures than I have from successes though.
What are some ideals or strategies that you practice for general productivity?
I go to the gym every morning. I had a college professor who told me that if I found one thing that I am consistent in doing, that that dedication will transfer over into the rest of my life.
What are some unique challenges facing a nonprofit, specifically one related to the arts?
Our staffing and operational costs are as valuable as the work we do or the buildings we renovate. This isn’t always understood. If we don’t have a strong operational budget, we can’t provide our city effective impact. For example, if we can’t spend money to properly market our work, no one will attend, and it will have no value. Support for our annual fund is vital.
What is your advice for facing those unique challenges?
Most people understand the value of staffing and marketing in the for-profit sector. It has the same value in the non-profit sector. With strong infrastructure comes an effective organization.
What are the advantages to having a position like yours at a relatively young age?
I am not afraid to ask for help. I am surrounded by some incredible servant leaders who serve on our board. It is a “who’s who” of Lynchburg leadership. When an issue arises, I have an incredible brain trust to turn to, and as a younger leader, this is an easy relationship to have. I have no ego with them, and I am ready to learn.
What are the disadvantages to having a position like yours at a relatively young age?
My network is younger. I don’t have a long history with older artists, patrons and donors. I need to reach as many in our community as possible, and I will have to work to create more of these relationships and connections.
What type of leader are you?
I am a collaborator. I like a team environment in which my co-workers are empowered and own their work.
What’s life like outside of work?
My wife [Ashley] and I love good food, the outdoors and travel.
We are always looking to expand our experiences. I am also a big college football fan. Some of the things I love about sports are the same things I love about the arts.
What do you appreciate about this region?
I grew up here. I have lived by the ocean, and I have lived in a major city.
[But] I only truly feel at home in the mountains. There is nowhere I would rather be than on a trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My mother taught me not to bemoan what I don’t have but to take advantage of what I do have.
What one piece of advice would you share with others?
I will quote the playwright Samuel Beckett, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Any final words?
This is an exciting time to be in Lynchburg. We are sitting on so much potential. I think if you are complaining about Lynchburg, you aren’t trying very hard to engage or create something new.
There is so much opportunity.