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Who Runs New Arts Center?

Town to play stronger role, at least initially.

In its latest attempt to finalize governance policies, the Community Cultural Arts Center Citizens' Advisory Committee sharpened its focus for the management of the proposed downtown arts center.

Most of the discussion during the April 16 meeting centered around the position of executive director, chairman Ellen Kaminsky said. Before the meeting, Kaminsky met with Mayor Richard Thoesen and Town Manager Stephen Owen to hammer out concerns about the town's long-term commitment to funding the position.

According to the latest plan, the executive director would then answer to the arts center's foundation board of directors. A non-profit entity, the foundation is projected to serve as a guide for the center's artistic vision and programming. In addition to outlining policy guidelines for the center, the foundation would, according to the committee, help nourish the growing partnership between the center and the numerous and often competing groups and interests that will vie for the facility at any given time.

Thoesen, who once chaired the committee, likes what the committee is proposing. "It captures the best of both worlds," the mayor said. "I think initially, at least, we can be satisfied that the director will be responsible to the town via his connection with the town manager and the Town Council.

"As the program begins to mature and develop, the foundation will be out on its own," he added. "It satisfies the need to have some control, but gives the foundation a chance, with time and experience, to develop on their own."

<b>UNDER THE CURRENT PROPOSAL</b> the town would be required to hire the executive director, with input expected from the proposed foundation. From programming and scheduling to budgets and publicity to ticket sales and furniture purchasing, the executive director would be responsible for day-to-day operations of the center, according to the committee.

In the previous draft memo, dated March 19, the governance subcommittee recommended that the executive director would be hired by the town and report directly to the town manager.

The town manager, the committee said, would not be "tied to the day-to-day political pressures" of the mayor and town council.

The committee now recommends that the executive director would answer to the town manager for a period of five years, beginning two years before the center would open. "We figure that an executive director would need about two years to help get the arts center up and running," Kaminsky said.

For his part, Owen, the town manager, thinks the latest proposal is something that can satisfy himself and the community. "It makes sense to me. I am certainly comfortable with it," Owen said, on Monday.

<b>THE PROPOSED CENTER</b> represents a departure from more typical town projects like water, sewer, libraries and police, Owen said. Therefore, since it is not what Owen described as being a "traditional public service," it is important for the town to have some initial say. It is logical to keep an eye on the new project, Owen said, adding that the town didn't want "it under our wing forever."

There were other more practical reasons for the director's post to answer to the town, at least initially, the town manager said. "From an administrative point of view, it makes sense to start out here," Owen said. "For payroll service, it is just easier for us to administer."

By transitioning the executive director's position from the town to the foundation after a proposed five-year, probationary-like, period, the town would have a considerable voice at the table of a new publicly-funded facility. "I think it is a good solution for two reasons," Kaminsky said. "One, it gives town control at the beginning. And two, it also shows fiscal responsibility because a taxpayer wants to know that his dollar is being spent wisely."

It would be "unrealistic" for the foundation to assume full control from day one, Kaminsky added. "Three years after the doors open, however, it should be ready to stand on its own two feet."

Thoesen agreed. "What I like about it is that we will, as a community, develop a confidence in the foundation's ability to run the center and if over time the maturation occurs then everyone will be comfortable," he said. "But then, if over time that does not occur then certainly we could stall the foundation's from being completely on their own."