Changes imminent for Arts Center’s future, Durango Herald, Nov. 6, 2007

After 11 years, Executive Director Brian Wagner is leaving Durango for a job in Oregon. A reception for him will be held Nov. 30.

Long before Brian Wagner announced in October that he was leaving after 11 years as executive director of the Durango Arts Center to take a new job at the Oregon Arts Commission, board members of DAC had informally surveyed artists and people in the community.

“Overwhelmingly, people are not aware of all the things that the Arts Center does,” board member and sculptor Preston Parrot said over coffee last week. We also spoke with the center’s board president Karen Thompson, who is a business consultant.

As a catch-up, if you don’t know what the center does either, programs include: music, theatre, visual arts, children’s programming, dance, writing and the Diamond Circle Melodrama coming next year.

Yet their mission statement reads: “The Durango Arts Center advances the visual and cultural arts for the enrichment of the individual, the community of Durango and Southwest Colorado.”

Notice the emphasis on the visual arts.

“We started as a visual-arts center,” Thompson said. “I’m not sure a strategic decision was ever made to become a children’s arts center. We’ve been opportunistic when it came to funding.”

It’s a common challenge among nonprofit arts organizations. Funding is geared toward arts education. And the majority of programming at the DAC reaches children and youth, though what receives the most coverage is the exhibits.

“It’s sort of like the tail wagging dog,” Thompson said. “We don’t always want to follow the funding, but I think that is what we have done.”

Thompson said that the growth of the Arts Center had been more organic than strategic. She said that the melodrama is another change that will require revision of the strategic plan the DAC put together two years ago.

“We have alienated some of the visual artists,” Thompson acknowledged. “We need to fix that. I will know we have succeeded when well-known and respected artists in the community don’t abandon us.”

Parrot would like to see the Arts Center become a resource center for working artists. He envisions technology being a big source of this connection and is working to help the center redesign its Web site to make it more interactive.

“Basically, when someone thinks about art, I want them to go to the DAC Web site to find their answer,” he said.

Thompson said that the center has to find the money to do this. It is absolutely essential.

Funding is a key issue all round. The budget has grown during Wagner’s tenure, from $200,000 to about $640,000. With the addition of the melodrama, the budget will increase to around $900,000. But this means that fundraising must also increase from the current level of around $300,000 to upwards of $450,000.

“This is an incredibly challenging time,” Thompson said. “We have the opportunity to find someone to replace Brian who can bring new energy and enthusiasm.”

Funding is crucial here, too, because Thompson doesn’t know if the board can afford much more than the approximately $50,000 a year Wagner has earned. Go to the front page of the Arts Center’s Web site to read a job description.

The arts center’s board meets this week to form a search committee. They want to have several board members and a past board member on the committee. They hope to have no more than five people.

One element of Wagner’s legacy is the Strong Arts, Strong Community economic impact study that he spearheaded in the spring at a seminar in which Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper spoke. Thompson is looking for someone to complete the study.

The changes at DAC have provided a shot of adrenaline to the board, Thompson said in summary, adding: “It requires us to step back and reassess where we are and where we want to go and how we’re going to get there.”

If you go

A farewell reception for Durango Arts Center’s executive director Brian Wagner will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Nov. 30, 802 East Second Ave., 259-2606.

artsjournalist@centurytel.net Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the visual arts.

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