COLUMBIA — The Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts had a rough summer.
With legal battles over its costly renovation project, a financial situation in dire straits and the sudden loss of its director, David White, in June, the theater has been mired in controversy as well as debt.
On Sept. 8, the theater board announced it had hired longtime Columbia resident R. Eric Staley as its new executive director.
“He seemed like a capable individual, and we’re confident he will be successful in accomplishing what we hope to achieve,” Lucy Vianello, founder of the Missouri Symphony Society and member of the board, said at a reception for Staley on Thursday night.
Staley said he is optimistic even though the theater is still struggling with financial debt that stems from the $10 million restoration project completed in May 2008.
Besides settling the theater's debts, Staley said his goal is to create a partnership with the community. He wants to include more members in decision-making and strengthen the relationship with those already involved.
Staley said he also plans to re-examine the theater’s programming to encompass a wider variety of events and art forms.
“I have no shortage of confidence, but it isn’t confidence in me, it’s confidence in what we have," he said. "The theater itself is a tremendous product, and the vision that comes out of the theater is a tremendous vision. To be able to articulate those things is the challenge.”
Through his company, Missionmapping, Staley has worked with businesses to create strategic blueprints to help them overcome internal problems. He said he has also helped direct fundraising campaigns for nonprofit organizations including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City and the Central Missouri Food Bank.
Staley’s relationship with the theater dates back almost five years, when Missionmapping held a workshop with board members and staff, the symphony society and the Columbia Art League.
The seminar hatched a plan to raise funds for the theater’s restoration. Staley assumed that would be the end of his working relationship with the theater and its renovation.
Just this past summer, Staley had an informal discussion with a member of the campaign committee about the theater’s progress.
"It was during that meeting that I became re-engaged in the whole swirl and became a candidate for the position," he said. "It’s one of those full circle things … you can never project it, you never know that anything like that is coming."
Interim director Kanani May said she is pleased Staley was chosen from about 50 candidates who applied for the position. May is now refocusing on her position as the director of public relations and marketing for the theater.
She said she found it too demanding to serve as both marketing director and interim director: “To do 21 concerts in eight weeks, try to continue focusing on the marketing and promotion of that, all while trying to keep us all together and keep us moving forward and begin a search for Dr. Staley.”
Staley said his experience, managerial skills and background will help turn the theater around.
“I’m not a worrier," he said. "I don’t think that there’s any profit in worrying. Things are what they are, and you take a very positive approach to that, and you meet that challenge as best you can."