By Jacob Blair
Joel Aalberts, executive director at the EKU Center for the Arts, used Wednesday’s Community Operations Board meeting to highlight new goals in the areas of fundraising, marketing, operations and outreach.
Aalberts has been executive director for three months and said he’s planning on sticking around longer than his predecessors and wants to find low-cost fixes for the center’s problems, he said.
“We’ve been throwing a lot of money toward our problems,” Aalberts said.
He plans to trim $50,000 from the center’s current operations budget by cutting administrative expenses by developing more efficient, cost-effective programs. One suggestion is to be flexible with traditional media to save on printing costs. He also announced a plan to develop group-sales programs with a revenue goal of at least $150,000 by Sept. 30.
“With our Broadway shows, we need to have buses coming, church groups and senior groups,” Aalberts said. “It does take time to develop these programs.”
Aalberts first job was as group sales coordinator for a performing arts center at the University of Iowa.
Aalberts said the board has to have the mindset of entrepreneurs in order to make the Center successful.
“We are a particularly new business as our leadership has changed every year,” Aalberts said. “We are in entrepreneur mode big time. I’m optimistic. We’re going to do our best to get the season going.”
During the meeting, Aalberts said he really wants fundraising to occur to make the experience beneficial for everyone else.
“It [Sponsorship] lowers the [monetary] risk on every show sponsored and could also lower ticket prices,” Aalberts said.
He also wants to add smaller events in addition to the main act for the night of the performance to outreach to more groups in the audience. He used the performance of the EKU Treblemakers as an example, when they performed in the lobby for patrons before the Rockapella event.
Board chair Harry Moberly asked if the center could collaborate with the Richmond Area Arts Council, to which Aalberts replied yes.
Another goal is to rezone the Grand Hall theater to generate more revenue.
“The premium seats will have higher prices,” Aalberts said.
The new proposed theater chart has premium seats in the first six rows of Orchestra I, the main floor. Zone one, which is the next below would have most of the center seats from row seven back through Grand Tier I. Zone two would contain the side aisle seats as they don’t have the best view. Zone three would be the cheapest ticket in the back of Orchestra II and Grand Tiers I and II.
Aalberts wants to have the zone three seats reserved for EKU and Berea College students so they could have access to shows for as little as $15.
The point of rezoning the theater was to not just deal with some ADA compliance issues with seating, but also to move more people to the lower levels and close off the top ones if there is not enough demand.
“We can be accommodating to anyone who wants a ticket,” Aalberts said.
If the acts coming to the theater are top notch, students and others will pay for them.
“When I was an undergrad, we ate poorly at night for three weeks in a row so we could go see the show,” Aalberts said. “We want to make sure students have an opportunity for these shows.”
Another effort Aalberts has added is to have spill-proof drink glasses in the Grand Hall before the Broadway concerts in February. He said one of the things he has noticed during intermissions is people standing in line for drinks at the bar and then “pounding” them or throwing them away before being allowed to return to the show.
Barry Poynter, vice president for finance and administration at EKU, said he is pleased with the direction Aalberts has proposed.
“This is just what we’ve been after,” Poynter said. “It’s moving us forward.”
Aalberts announced the center would manage future marketing without FMB Advertising.
“We can develop our own relationships,” Aalberts said.
He also announced plans to stop most of the ticket compensation for services at the center. Tickets that would be done through compensation would either be things such as radio station giveaways or marketing trades.
The board talked about the price of hosting an event for non-profit groups versus commercial groups.
Board member Marc Whitt said an issue stemmed from a proposal submitted Rusty Rechenbach and the Rose Barn Theatre.
“He presented to us a proposal basically asking us to hold the Black Box theater for six weeks at a fee below what we currently charge,” Whitt said.
The board is willing to work with local arts groups, Whitt said, but they could not accommodate the request.
“I got a response that leads me to believe I won’t be getting a Christmas card (from the Rose Barn group) this year,” Whitt said.
Board member Skip Daugherty said issue stems from a conversation with the previous of the Rose Barn president when the center offered two dates for the Rose Barn to use the Black Box theater.
“Six weeks of unlimited use? I think Rusty’s living in a dream world,” Daugherty said.
The board did agree on some events where the facility would be free of charge to community groups using it. One such upcoming event will be the Madison County Community Holiday Celebration on Dec. 15.
New EKU President Michael Benson’s inauguration will take place in the center in the spring spring. One large convocation session in the fall for the new students at EKU is also planned.
The center also has become a venue for Kentucky artists.
Ginny Rollins said photos by James Archambeault are on display in the Center and he will be there for “The Nutcracker” ballet and “Messiah” performances Dec. 7 and Dec. 8.
A board committee was appointed to discuss marketing and attendance. Board member Malcolm Frisbie was selected to chair the panel. Marc Whitt, Skip Daugherty, and Shannon Combs also will work with Joel Aalberts on the committee.
The center wants to add a ticket office inside the Powell Building on EKU’s campus because Aalberts said most students go through the Powell Building at least once a day, and more of them likely would purchase tickets if it were more convenient.
The Popovich Comedy Pet Theater scheduled for Jan. 18 was cancelled as Popovich is scheduled to have surgery and cancelled all spring tour dates, Aalberts said.
The board decided to forgo a December meeting because of the holidays and will next meet in January.