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University weighs Weidner Center plans

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The process of reinvigorating the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts took another step forward Dec. 1 and 2 as UW-Green Bay held meetings with key stakeholders who are looking to the facility’s future.

Joined by consultant Steve Carignan of the Gallagher Bluedorn Center at  the University of Northern Iowa, UW-Green Bay Chancellor Thomas K. Harden presented elements of a draft proposal during the sessions, which were attended by Weidner Center Presents board members, donors, ushers, ticket holders and other invited campus and community groups.

Goals for the Weidner Center strategic planning process include serving the University’s academic mission, using programming to engage diverse demographic groups, increasing access to the Weidner throughout greater Green Bay and re-branding the Weidner as an arts event epicenter. That includes a focus on what traditionally has been termed “mainstage” programming, as well as access and opportunities for faculty and students, various community organizations and K-12 educational programming. Officials will release the Weidner’s 2012-13 lineup, expected to consist of 14 to 18 performances — including two Broadway shows — in spring.

“The kinds of things people want to see here are changing,” Harden said, introducing a plan for a diverse array of programming at the center, “just as the community itself is changing.”

During the meetings Dec. 1 and 2, Harden presented a draft budget plan and tentative staffing levels for the center, noting that broad-based support — from ticket sales, philanthropy and the University — will be important moving forward. The five-year plan anticipates total inflows of $1.54 million for 2012-13, projected to increase to $2.34 million by 2016-17. Costs also will increase, Harden said — outflows will be an estimated $1.53 million next year, increasing to $2.27 million five years out — but under the plan, the Weidner will remain in the black.

“The bottom line is really important,” Harden told the Dec. 2 afternoon session involving about 50 faculty and staff, indicating the draft plan. “Every year we finish in the black. That’s critical.”

Staffing also would increase under the draft plan, and the center plans to hire an executive director, along with two other full-time positions, in 2012-13. Four more full-time employees would be brought on in 2013-14 – provided revenue projections are achieved – and a final additional full-time staffer the year after that, according to the draft outline.

University officials and consultant Carignan began meeting with various campus and community stakeholder groups this fall, working on a vision for the signature facility’s future. Part of that process, Harden said, includes addressing the misperception that the Weidner Center closed six years ago, when UW-Green Bay stepped back from being the primary programmer. Recalling what some refer to as the facility’s “heyday” prior to that, Harden said hosting more than a dozen Broadway shows each year simply isn’t feasible. Kate Green, Weidner Center director of programming, agreed.

“The big shows and mainstage productions remain a crucial part of what the Weidner offers for campus and community,” Green said. “But we also want to emphasize all the other ways in which this facility serves Northeastern Wisconsin. We had 115 ushered events last year, ranging from programs for school groups to University Theatre and music productions and shows from big-name entertainers.”

The campus community got a glimpse of how increased collaboration with the Weidner might look Dec. 2, when staff organist Michael Stefanek offered a noon recital on the Weidner’s Wood Family Organ for faculty, staff and students. Stefanek also was slated to play the evening of Dec. 3 during the UW-Green Bay Wind Ensemble and Symphonic Band Concert at the Weidner. Music faculty members are exited to pursue new avenues of collaboration with the facility, said Kevin Collins, UW-Green Bay director of bands and music program chair.

Next steps for the Weidner include hiring its executive director, completing programming for the 2012-13 season — when the facility will celebrate its twentieth anniversary — and launching marketing and fundraising operations to build toward the goal of a self-supporting facility. Officials plan to establish a “Friends of the Weidner” annual campaign as part of efforts to better engage stakeholders through improved communication and other efforts.

As for the facility’s “heyday” — a reference that has come up multiple times during the planning process — Harden isn’t convinced it’s passed. The Weidner’s heyday, he said, “may be yet to come. I think we’re onto something pretty significant.”

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