Published: Apr 17, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Apr 17, 2012 07:17 PM
New director says ArtsCenter has moved ‘far away from the precipice’
Nearly 40-year-old organization moving into its next phase
CARRBORO - Back in the early 1980s, Art Menius started writing reviews of concerts at The ArtsCenter for local publications including The News & Observer.He’s back now, in a different capacity: The ArtsCenter recently named Menius its new executive director. Menius, a Raleigh native who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNC, has served in positions including president of the Folk Alliance and the Old-Time Music Group, director of the Appalshop media and arts center in Whitesburg, Ky., and associate festival coordinator for the Merlefest folk festival.He returns as The ArtsCenter regains its financial footing. The organization, which serves 60,000 people each year through classes, afterschool programs, concerts and other events, was hit hard by the recession and suffered several consecutive years of financial losses that left it, at one point, with a half-million dollar debt.Menius credits the Board of Directors and Interim Director Jay Miller, who came on last summer, with turning that trend around. The ArtsCenter eliminated several positions (including executive director), adopted what Miller called an “ultra-conservative” $1.2 million budget, received several substantial grants and implemented new budget and development strategies.The result is that the organization is on course to finish this fiscal year on firm financial footing, Menius said. The board has reinstated the executive director’s position, and memberships, which at one point had fallen below 150, are back above 500.We sat down with Menius in the ArtsCenter’s main gallery last week to chat: Q. You go back a long way with The ArtsCenter. What’s it like coming back? I go back to when The ArtsCenter started getting heavily into presenting shows, in ’83, at the Carr Mill location. I started covering shows for the N&O and The Independent, and spent 22 years covering and promoting shows here. Almost every corner of this building has fond memories.It feels wonderful. It really is a coming home, not just to the Triangle, but to this facility and the community that is organized around The ArtsCenter. It feels natural to me. Q. The ArtsCenter has struggled financially, right up to last year. What’s the state of things now? In the last year the board, staff and Jay Miller as interim director have executed an amazing turnaround, of which I’m the beneficiary immediately, and of which the community is the beneficiary in the long run. We will be very solidly in the black for the fiscal year ending June 30. One of my first tasks is to work on the budget for fiscal 2013, and then, with the board, envision the growth and evolution of The ArtsCenter going forward. Now that we’ve gotten through this last bad patch, we’re not going to go back. Q. How did things turn around so fast? What got us here was, with Jay’s direction, some significant cuts – nearly $400,000 in cuts – in expenses and, largely through one of board member, a couple of large grants that shored up the income side. We’ve moved very far away from the precipice in a short amount of time. We’ve really cut down to where there’s no fluff left in budget and started developing new income streams. That’s where we’ve got to move forward from, to get folks in the community once again investing in the arts and realizing that The ArtsCenter is once again an excellent investment in the vibrancy of the community, that we’re not going away but instead are growing and getting stronger. The great thing about an organization like The ArtsCenter is that we can marry mission and margin. We can do things that make money to keep the institution healthy, and at the same time deliver access to the arts to this community and the six-county area we serve. Q. Construction of the 300 W. Main St. project and hotel has begun. How will that affect The ArtsCenter’s operations? It will offer opportunities, many of which would be premature to talk about at this point. But in the immediate future, once you get inside these doors it will be the very same ArtsCenter with which you’re familiar, offering great classes and presentations... Our board has some bold visions for moving forward that will become revealed probably sooner rather than later. We see the construction going on here as a great opportunity to move into the next phase of the life of The ArtsCenter. Q. The ArtsCenter took out a $350,00 loan against its building a few years ago. What’s the status of that?We should finish this year more than $100,000 in the black when June 30 rolls around. We’ll be paying off our mortgage for some time, but everything is on the upswing now, and we should even be restructuring that in the short term to put us in a more solid position with the lower mortgage rates available today. Our debt revenue this year will end up retiring our debts, other than the main mortgage on the building. I can’t say how much I appreciate Jay’s leadership as interim executive director, a board that was committed to turning things around, and a staff willing to make the personal sacrifices to facilitate that turnaround. Q. When you look at The ArtsCenter five years from now, what do you see? What I see is doing more and better of the core activities we’ve been doing, reaching out to a larger audience and collaborating more and more with the many other vibrant arts institutions in the Triangle, which is clearly one of the nation’s most vibrant arts communities. I’ve already, in just my first three days, been in meetings envisioning ways that different institutions can partner together to accomplish more than any of us can do individually. We take very seriously our position as the cultural flagship. We’ve righted the ship and are moving in a forward direction, and it’s just going to get better from here.