They come from beyond. Five of them, at least. Of the six cultural entities profiled here, five leaders came from other cities and disciplines to take part in Richmond's scene. They bring ideas here, and that can be good for everybody.
And sometimes, as in the case of the Richmond Ballet's Brett Bonda — and not that unusually in the nonprofit and arts communities — if they start here, they'll stay, rising through the ranks.
This is a sampling of new faces in several important arts positions. If you see them, wish them well. One thing about bringing art to people is that as exciting as the undertaking often is, it's never easy. —Harry Kollatz Jr.
Dancing as Fast as He Can
Brett Bonda, Richmond Ballet's managing director
Brett Bonda is getting plenty more calls from the Richmond Ballet's board of trustees than he used to. And the emails are coming from everywhere. "I get response anxiety," he says, rocking in his chair. "But you can't be as responsive as you want — not if you want to have the right answer."
On June 6, following the departure of Keith Martin, Bonda became managing director of the company. It wasn't a job he'd thought about pursuing.
But founding artistic director Stoner Winslett thought that Bonda's public persona — combined with his breadth of experience, coming up as a company dancer and eventually running Minds in Motion, the Richmond Ballet's education initiative — made him a natural fit.
"Stoner asked me if I'd consider the job," Bonda says. "It meant leaving a fairly comfortable place and going into the unknown a little." Bonda discussed the possibility with his wife, Annette, and she thought he should go for it. "So that was that," he says, smiling.
He received a Theresa Pollak Prize in 2001, in recognition of his efforts with the statewide Mind in Motion program. Adapted from the National Dance Institute (founded by former New York City Ballet principal dancer Jacques d'Amboise), it began with 60 students in two Richmond elementary schools and today is enjoyed by some 2,400 students in 36 elementary schools across the state. Richmond Ballet's Minds in Motion has even become international, partnering with educators in Emek Hefer, Israel, to put on programs there.
While a senior at Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Va., Bonda considered joining several companies before signing on with the Richmond Ballet. He intended to stay for a year.
Instead, he's beginning his 27th year, now as managing director. Bonda radiates boundless energy and enthusiasm perfectly suited for instructing young people and organizing Minds in Motion events. That dynamism must now go into managing the whole company.
He's taking the lead as the company proceeds with a strategic plan to determine its course for the near future. Meanwhile, there's plenty to keep him busy.
In June 2012, the entire company will perform overseas for the first time, in London. This connection comes from a February performance at Richmond Ballet's Studio Theatre by upper-level dancers from the Royal Ballet School.
In November, a longtime desire of Winslett's will be realized with the Richmond premiere of George Balanchine's Liebeslieder Walzer. Additionally, a world-premiere ballet by Chinese-born, now Tulsa-based choreographer Ma Cong comes in March, and in April, the ballet will perform Agnes de Mille's Rodeo as part of the Richmond Symphony's "Wild Wild West" Pops series.
Bonda says, "The main thing — and Studio Theatre has shown this — is making this work accessible and providing a unique experience for the audience." —Harry Kollatz Jr.
Rolling Out the Welcome Mat
Anedra Bourne, tourism coordinator for Richmond's economic and community development coordinator
The City of Richmond hasn't really ever had a tourism director, although all the surrounding counties do, at least in one form or another. Anedra Bourne started the new job on July 18. She's now on staff with the department of economic and community development, which makes sense, since tourism generates interest and brings money to the city's coffers.
"Clearly, it's hard to get people in the front door if they don't know where the front door is," says Bourne, referring to Richmond's need for a central visitor center. "Considering all that we have here — from history to the arts, to the river and our museums — this is our opportunity to make or lose."
Arts and culture are significant drivers for both tourism and economic development. The VMFA's landmark Picasso exhibit, for example, had an estimated $26.6 million economic impact on the Richmond region, according to a July 25 report in the Times-Dispatch. The much-discussed downtown arts district is due to play its part. "I think we're working toward that," Bourne says of the proposed district. "The boundaries of the district should be determined. It's the most feasible way to encourage economic and opportunity development, to start small and brand it to the public."
1708 Gallery's InLight is a prime example of the widening the appeal of art. Especially this year, when the event shifts the riverfront and the canal. "This is an event, and while not everybody may be attracted to art, this kind of exhibition is truly unique and brings people in," Bourne says.
She opened the doors as publicity and marketing director for the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar and before that was at the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau. She's new to this position but not to thinking about what attracts visitors. "Since I'm not originally from Richmond, I can see things, too, from a different perspective," she says.
Bourne's first challenge is to build an office from nothing in a time of tight budgets while not duplicating the efforts of the Richmond Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau. That entity promotes the entire region to businesses, organizations and institutions planning conferences and forums, as well as casual sightseers — people who tumble off the interstate and wonder what they can see in a few hours.
Now, as Bourne looks to do that for the city, she explains that what it needs is a central point of entry. In her view, that place seems to be Main Street Station, which provides stops for Amtrak and sits between the interstate crossroads and across the street from the plaza where the Megabus departs and drops off. "Right now there's 7,000 people a month that are using the Megabus from that location," she says. "You add the Amtrak passengers, its 10,000 people — and we'd naturally like to see those numbers go up, especially for Amtrak."
In coming months, Bourne and consultants will make these and other assessments — about everything from the effectiveness (and consistency) of signage to the logistics of sprucing up the city's exit-ramp gateways so they become alluring invitations to come, see and spend discretionary dollars. Bourne says, too, that when visitors come to the Richmond Folk Festival or the Dominion Riverrock, they can be encouraged to stay an extra day on either end to see what else is going on.
Short term, on Saturdays, the To the Bottom & Back Bus will continue its free tourist circulator route, which started in February with the Picasso exhibit. It's long been discussed — rubber-wheeled "streetcars" were supposed to do this in the early 1990s. "We'll want to leverage that and eventually expand the service," Bourne says.
Once visitors get in the front door, Richmond can show them a good time. —HK
Bridging the Gap
Lindsay C. Chamberlain, Firehouse Theatre Project's general manager
Lindsay Chamberlain can't wait for the opening of the Firehouse Theatre Project's production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this month.
"I know it's not a new show for Richmond, but for me it encapsulates so much energy and captures the Southern essence of the theater," she says. "I'm so excited."
Living in the South is a first for Chamberlain, who started as Firehouse's general manager in February after relocating from Portland, Ore. "Moving to the East Coast is a new world for me," she says. "I'm still working to get the rhythm of the city down pat."
She says she's also still trying to find her inner Southern charm. "I don't have that Southern genteel style," she says. "I'm very direct."
Before coming to Richmond, Chamberlain managed a small Portland nonprofit theater called CoHo Productions. "All the shows were co-productions," she says. "It served as a platform for other artists."
She was interested in Firehouse because of its penchant for producing edgy shows that push the envelope. "I had worked on some of the same productions in Portland," she says, adding that she believes Firehouse is the place to be. "It's a hub of activity."
While she appreciates Firehouse's successful history, Chamberlain would like to "modernize things and streamline some operations. I want to be a smart leader and make things easier."
She's already switched the ticketing system, making it more user-friendly for patrons by giving subscribers the chance to reserve tickets online, and she's working to update the theater's website. "I want to observe before I make more changes," she says. "I want to make sure I am not making any unnecessary changes."
Chamberlain's day-to-day duties are varied and range from working with the board to develop strategy to scheduling the use of the theater space.
One of her goals is to look at different marketing techniques, including attending more of the region's festivals and partnering with local businesses. "I'm trying to find more direct ways to interact with the community through partnerships like we have with Lowe's, which allows us to have parking in their parking lot," she says. "When you partner with outside organizations, it benefits everyone involved."
Chamberlain hopes to serve as a bridge between the production teams and administration. "The breakdown of communication between the production teams and administration is really the downfall of any organization and especially in producing theater when its foundation is collaboration," she says. "What gives me life and thrills me is to serve as a bridge between the two entities. My strength is communication and making sure everyone understands what everyone needs."
It's all about networking and connecting people with one another, "bringing dreams and ideas into fruition," she says. "That is what theater production is all about." —Joan Tupponce
Lighting the Spark
Ryan Ripperton, SPARC's executive director
Ryan Ripperton believes a performing-arts education is much more than simply learning to act, sing, dance or play an instrument.
"It has the ability to change someone's life — to go beyond performing arts skills," he says. "It teaches leadership skills and gives students the ability to speak in public and receive and give constructive criticism."
The North Carolina native found that the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC) shared the same philosophy during a job search last year. After an 11-year career as the executive director of a national music fraternity and its related foundation in Indiana, Ripperton was looking for a new challenge. He stepped into the role of executive director of SPARC in March 2010.
SPARC is a good fit for him, he says, because "it embraces leadership and other life skills."
He finds the performing-arts community in Richmond to be "warm, welcoming and collaborative" and hopes to mirror those attributes as a leader. "SPARC's family is made up of some unbelievably talented people," he says. "I'm finding ways to give those individuals the challenge to live up to their potential."
He describes his leadership style as both open-door and hands-on, but "not in a micromanaging sense. I'm happy to pick up whatever needs to be done and do it. I think a leader should be involved in all aspects of the organization."
Ripperton is currently involved in the public phase of SPARC's $4.5 million campaign to help grow the organization. He's also working to diversify the school's offerings, tripling the number of classes. "We're adding more specialty classes, such as audition techniques, and also bringing our beginning ages down from 5 to 3 years old," he says. "We're also adding class locations at CenterStage and The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen."
Part of his long-term goal is to sustain and grow the school's outreach programs. "Currently 1,000 students benefit from [those] programs," he says. "We've had success in securing funding to provide the programs at no cost."
The nonprofit world is familiar to both Ripperton and his wife, Danielle, who serves as director of development for the Peter Paul Development Center, a community-based center serving children and families in Church Hill. "We are a nonprofit family," he says.
Since moving to the area, the couple has enjoyed touring the city's historical sites, but their 3-year-old daughter, Ella, has her own favorite excursion: The Children's Museum of Richmond. "She asks to go there every day," Ripperton says. —JT
Nurturing an Arts Catalyst
Richard M. Parison Jr., executive director, Richmond CentreStage
Richard Parison Jr. was determined to live in downtown Richmond when he moved to the city.
"I wanted to be one of those people that contribute to the downtown energy," says Richmond CenterStage's new executive director, whose digs overlook the James River.
Creating energy is a recurring theme in Parison's professional life, and that's why he's thrilled to be part of Richmond's downtown renaissance. "Our mission is to be a catalyst for arts and culture. That drives everything we do at CenterStage," he says. "That is the fire in our belly."
This month, Parison and CenterStage are bringing in the legendary Patti LaBelle as part of the organization's annual birthday celebration to kick off the performing-arts season. "We are working to make sure people know there is an energetic force going on here," he says. "We have an exciting season of events." Already on the books are the Richmond debut of Disney's The Lion King; Forever Tango, starring Cheryl Burke of Dancing with the Stars; and improv comedy nights with the West End Comedy Players.
Parison came to CenterStage from Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Mass., where he served as producing director. Prior to that, he worked as the associate producing director of the Prince Music Theater and the assistant producing artistic director at the Walnut Street Theater, both in Philadelphia, Penn. "I've been working in professional theater my whole life," he says.
He saw CenterStage as an organization brimming with potential. "To be in a place that had such amazing possibilities and to be in its infancy was the exciting part of coming here," he says.
He admits he first thought the city would be larger than it is. "It's really a small-town city," he says, adding that he was excited to find a vibrant performing-arts community. "The arts groups have done an amazing job with connecting to the community at large. Engagement stretches beyond ticket buying."
One of his goals is to strengthen the organization's community outreach. "We want to make sure everybody feels what we do is accessible and available to them," he says. "We want them to feel there is something here for everybody. You can come see a fantastic opera or a symphonic performance as well as a local jazz artist or a children's puppet show."
Parison describes CenterStage as a "cultural living room, a gathering place for artists from around the world and around the corner" as well as a source for youth-focused educational programming.
He believes the arts are even more important to the community during tough economic times. "Our civilization is nothing without the arts. [They] tie us into who we are as individuals and who we are as human beings," he says. "We feel that now is the time to firm up people's beliefs in the value of the performing arts to ourselves as a community and as individuals." —JT
Keeping the Arts' Lights On
Emily Smith, executive director, 1708 Gallery
On any given First Friday, the 1708 Gallery counts 1,500 to 1,800 visitors. They come, they socialize, they actually look at art. Emily Smith, now finishing her first year as 1708's director, says of the traffic, "I've also been pleased to see that people do stay for the artists' talks; they listen, they're engaged, they
One of the benefits of increased numbers is that while the art is more difficult to see because of all the heads in the way, some Broad Street galleries have started Thursday-evening previews. "Businesses here, though, can't keep open based on one Friday a month," Smith says.
Smith's association with the gallery began while she was a curator with the VMFA's Modern and Contemporary department; 1708 suggested that someone from the VMFA volunteer as a liaison for the gallery's InLight event. Smith agreed, and her commitment soon turned into weekly meetings and more, as InLight 2009, an event based in light, video and sound, got closer. On the October evening of the event, a downpour that threatened to put a damper on the show ended up transforming it, once the light sculptures were switched on. "The reflections off the damp streets and brick walls made it really magical," Smith says.
By the time the second InLight came around — in October 2010 — Smith, a Charlottesville resident, was expecting her first child with husband Jon-Phillip Sheridan, "I found out the first day we were supposed to have the first InLight meeting." As this year's event comes around on Oct. 21, she's in the thick of the festivities.
InLight 2011 shifts its location from downtown to along the river and canal, with 17 pieces chosen by Matthew Lyons, curator of The Kitchen arts center in New York City. With projections and sculptural elements, the installations will make use of the bridges along the water.
Smith's relatively short trip to Richmond from Charlottesville came by way of the University of Virginia, where she studied art history, and by way of the National Museum of Wildlife in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Projects outside of the gallery, big ones like InLight and smaller events, like satellite exhibits at the Linden Row Inn, as well as student forums and artist's talks, are part of the necessary task of reaching greater numbers of people.
The gallery's 35th anniversary arrives in 2013, and Smith is thinking about how to recognize the milestone within the context of artist-run galleries for new art, of which there aren't that many.
Smith is consistently impressed by the generosity of the city's arts community. "It takes its responsibility seriously through financial support of the gallery and attendance. They're proud of this place and what it means." —HK
NOTE: This article has been corrected since publication.