The Times-Dispatch reports on the CenterStage groundbreaking (which I skipped to see Soulive at Friday Cheers) today, complete with quotes from a business owner who’s switched from opposing the arts center to supporting it. Either no critics were present, or none were interviewed for this article.

In either case, the most articulate criticism of the arts center, including the most recent developments such as Wilder’s volunteer board appointments, is still available over at Saverichmond.com.

Someone recently questioned why I hold onto my reservations about this project, especially considering my interest in celebrating Richmond’s new developments. I do want Richmond to become more “urban,” and I don’t on principle oppose a performing arts center which hosts diverse arts groups and helps reinvigorate downtown. But I’m sick and tired of the behind-closed-doors development deals, the continual shunning of public input, and the wasting of public money on projects that haven’t been rigorously scrutinized. Just take a look at the VAPAF board Wilder just put together to oversee both development and operations. Then try to make the case that things have changed in Richmond from the days of 6th St. Marketplace:

• Thomas F. Farrell II, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Dominion
• Jean Boone, vice president, Richmond Free Press
• Theodore L. Chandler Jr., chairman and chief executive officer, LandAmerica Financial Group
• Joseph C. Farrell, retired chairman and chief operating officer, The Pittston Company
• Michael D. Fraizer, chairman and chief executive officer, Genworth Financial
• William H. Goodwin Jr., president, CCA Industries Inc.
• Robert J. Grey Jr., partner, Hunton & Williams
• Eva Teig Hardy, executive vice president, Dominion
• C.T. Hill, chairman, president and chief executive officer, SunTrust Bank Mid-Atlantic
• Susan Holsworth, research librarian, Afton Chemical Corporation
• John A. Luke Jr., chairman and chief executive officer, MeadWestvaco
• Marvette Monroe, assistant vice-president, First Market Bank
• Michael E. Szymanczyk, chairman and chief executive officer, Philip Morris USA
• Richard E. Toscan, dean, School of Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University
• James E. Ukrop, chairman, First Market Bank

14 out of 15 are corporate; no non-profits are represented and only one has any professional art connection. Color me not impressed.

I sincerely hope that my misgivings are misplaced.

***Update: So a friend who’s experienced in the non-profit world has told me that in non-profit governance, you actually want almost exclusive representation from corporate leaders.  The theory is they’ll make sure that the program folks, who’re actually running the show, have someone with business sense to make sure their “hearts” don’t get ahead of their pocket-books.  In other words, corporate types theoretically make sure that the money they and others are donating to the organization is well managed and spent wisely.  The program folks, in this instance the arts community, should have oversight of the activities of the non-profit.

So maybe my criticism is misplaced here after all when I bashed Wilder for appointing only corporate types to the board.  HOWEVER, I’m still concerned that the previous board was all too happy to spend other people’s money without the type of financial oversight and business scrutiny they’re ostensibly there to provide, and I’ve seen no assurance that this board  will be different.  In fact, that would have been the newsworthy bit- not the names so much as the new philosophy that would guarantee that Wilder and other (former) critics’ questions had been addressed.

Other lingering questions:

  • Boards are supposed to be made up of people financially invested in the project/non-profit they’re overseeing.  How much has this board given of their own money to this project? I don’t know.
  • How many of these folks are recycled from the previous board?  (I can’t find the previous list, as the old website has been taken down).
  • What assurance do we have that the new board will solicit meaningful input from the arts community in the actual operation of the performing arts center?

All input, discussion, and debate on this issue is encouraged.  I’m no expert in issues pertaining to the arts or non-profit management, and I hope I’ve displayed here publicly a willingness to admit when I’m wrong.  So you’re here asked and invited to add your commentary, questions, rants, or whatever!

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