An EKU-Centre arts rivalry?

The 2,012-seat "Broadway-capable and Broadway-quality theater in the new Center for the Performing Arts at Eastern Kentucky University, Monday, January 31, 2011, will be the second largest performing arts theater in Kentucky. Photo by Tim Webb

The 2,012-seat "Broadway-capable and Broadway-quality theater in the new Center for the Performing Arts at Eastern Kentucky University, Monday, January 31, 2011, will be the second largest performing arts theater in Kentucky. Photos by Tim Webb.

I am not aware of any historic rivalry between Centre College and Eastern Kentucky University. But it seems like one fired up on Monday morning, when EKU announced Debra Hoskins, the former assistant director at Centre’s Norton Center for the Arts, will run the new Center for the Performing Arts at Eastern Kentucky University.

Here’s the backstory on this move: Hoskins served for nearly two decades as the program and public relations director at the Norton Center before being promoted to assistant director late in her tenure. Over those years, she worked closely with center director George Foreman to bring an astonishing list of performers to the small liberal arts college in the small Kentucky town of Danville. The guest list included the Boston Pops, Kathleen Battle, Dolly Parton and many, many more.

Debra Hoskins talks with Madison County Judge-Executive Kent Clark and former Madison County representative Harry Moberly after she was announced as the new executive director of the Center for the Performing Arts at Eastern Kentucky University.

Debra Hoskins talks with Madison County Judge-Executive Kent Clark and former Madison County representative Harry Moberly after she was announced as the new executive director of the Center for the Performing Arts at Eastern Kentucky University.

In 2009, Foreman accepted a position as the director of the performing arts centers at the University of Georgia. Hoskins threw her hat in the ring for the director’s job at the Norton Center, but officials chose to bring in Steven A. Hoffman, a well traveled venue director whose last gig was the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif.

Despite his credentials, many of Hoskins’ ardent supporters saw this as an insult to a woman who, just days before Hoffman’s appointment was announced, had announced she had booked the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Gustavo Dudamel for an unprecedented concert at the Norton Center last September.

Hoskins stayed on for a while, but departed the Norton Center in December saying it was time to move on.

Turns out, she moved about 35 miles east.

At the same time Hoskins was leaving Centre, the original director of EKU’s center, Katherine Eckstrand, announced she was leaving to tend to family medical issues in Ohio, opening the door for Hoskins to lead the new facility at what happens to be her alma mater.

Do we have to spell out the forming rivalry out anymore?

Well, at Monday morning’s announcement, some university and public officials did. Madison County judge executive Kent Clark couldn’t help but invoke the word “stupid” in describing Centre’s decision to let Hoskins go.

For her own part, Hoskins did not express any animosity toward her former employer. She did say the new EKU center will be competitive with other venues in the region. She and others also highlighted geographic and physical advantages the new venue will have over facilities such as the Lexington Opera House and the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts, as well as the Norton Center.

And the 2,012-seat EKU Center, which includes a 250 seat black box theater, should be competitive. The stage house is only slightly smaller than Whitney Hall at Louisville’s Kentucky Center for the Arts, and at seven blocks from Exit 89 on I-75, only the Kentucky Center is closer to the Interstate. There will also be 500 parking spaces on the center property, so this will be a highly marketable venue to artists and audiences.

And Hoskins is all about marketing. At Centre, she was the force behind audience accoutrements such as intricate, fancy season announcement packages and a valet parking service at the Norton Center, where parking is pesky. She reportedly launched a bourbon and chocolate campaign to lure the Vienna Phil to Kentucky and has a track record of creating things like gift bags and outings to make artists’ visits to the Bluegrass memorable.

But there are also challenges in the new gig. Before they knew how events would unfold, when Foreman and Hoskins were asked about the EKU Center in 2009 they discussed how new centers take time to build up audience and clientele, something they spent a couple decades building up in Danville. The Norton Center also enjoys a healthy endowment to help support its programming.

So Hoffman has that to work with, and anyone who wants to write him off should reconsider. The man has been presenting top level artists since his days as a student at the University of Illinois, so it is not as if Centre brought in a novice.

And it’s not as if they are the only players in the region. For all the coups the Norton Center has pulled off the past few years, Singletary Center director Michael Grice has violin legend Itzhak Perlman coming in to play with the UK Symphony in March. And at the Opera House, Luanne Franklin has built the Broadway Live series into a top draw with consistently high quality shows. All of this is good for arts lovers in the region, and now there’s a little new drama to the South.

Starting this fall, Hoskins will program EKU and Hoffman will program at Centre.

Only they know how much they will think about each other’s lineups, but it will be hard for area arts observers to look at their coming seasons without seeing a lot of subtext.

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19 Responses to An EKU-Centre arts rivalry?

  1. getreal says:

    EKU is not Centre by a long shot. Ms. Hoskins had the weight of the Centre name and the World Games behind her to bring in the Vienna Orchestra. I seriously doubt that if Ms. Hoskins had been at EKU and the Games had not been in place that the Orchestra would have come to the Blue Grass simply because she is who she is…not someone on the radar nationally or the Centre Board would have extended the job to her. I really don’t think that nationally noted arts administrators have been knocking down EKU’s door for the position so no wonder they are thrilled for Hoskins involvement. True, EKU is wonderful situated for travel being right next to I – 75 while Danville is a major problem to get to from all over the Bluegrass.

  2. getreal says:

    I also have heard that the EKU facility is not interested in being a union house. “A Broadway type” Facility does not mean that you have Broadway quality shows. Anyone in show business knows that Union Actors (Broadway Quality folks in Richmond) do not play non union houses. Also I question the reason for the departure of the original Director. Richmond is not Danville. EKU is not Centre. I wonder how many art events Kent Clark has attended. I bet not many.

  3. getreal says:

    Gift bags and outings are things that any reasonably good events manager would offer and do not a national director of an arts complex make and valet parking being offered with an organization that has parking problems is only common sense. Again, these were all at Centre, an internationally ranked college being highly competitive and exclusive. EKU is ranked as one of the best places for a vet to go to school with an open admissions policy. A good school … but a public university that draws from 1st generation students in Eastern KY. Not very fancy and exclusive… But again, EKU has the location…EKU ran its mouth in the papers today…lets see if it can walk the walk…

  4. Amadeus says:

    Upon his departure from Centre in 2009, Rich Copley asked Foreman to name the best performer he witnessed during his tenure at the Norton Center. Answer: Willie Nelson. Foreman’s success was partially based upon his keen sense of blending quality with popularity. Hopefully EKU can follow a similar template.

  5. gouk says:

    Surely Vienna agreed to come because of the Games, but “weight of Centre name”?! PLEZE – Vienna had never even heard of Centre – their concern was the physical plant, and they sent a rep to examine Norton’s before agreeing. “Internationally ranked college being hghly competitive and exclusive” – again, PLEZE, Truly competitive and exclusive colleges don’t even fill out the questionnaires for those bogus political ratings (Bard doesn’t). If gift bags, outings, and valet parking is all that is required, then it is passing strange that other area venues don’t provide comparable artists/groups on a consistent basis, isn’t it?
    Yet a small venue with admitted serious location problems did. Also – let’s keep the facts straight – it was NOT EKU that “ran its mouth.” It was an elected Madison County official who made the comments.

  6. babymamadrama says:

    Actually, the Norton Center is also a non-union house and they don’t seem to have any trouble finding quality actors and techs. Tons of touring acts will play non-union houses! Part of the genius of a facility like this on a college campus is that the students (mostly through the work-study program) basically staff the whole facility. Traveling performers typically bring a small production crew that primarily uses students to set up, run, and strike the show. Students will staff the box office, front of house, and act as ushers. I expect that the chance to get work experience in a facility like this will be a big admissions draw for EKU. I know it is for Centre. In my opinion, a competition like the one implied by this article just benefits everyone involved.

  7. Colonel Reb says:

    Let’s hope they don’t start playing each other in football. Given the state of the EKU football program Center would probably win.

    EKU has resources and a serious faculty dedicated to educating the people of Kentucky. We need a change in leadership from top to bottom in academics, athletics, facilities management, on and on and on. Every silo at EKU is run by old white men that retired 5 years ago but didn’t tell anyone.

  8. Robert Garver says:

    I find it interesting the condescending comments about Eastern Kentucky University, if Centre College is so superior, then why did they hire someone with both degrees from EKU?

  9. kyjoe says:

    gouk told me all I needed to know the first time they used the word “PLEZE” in their argument.

  10. babymamadrama says:

    @Robert Garver
    Making a comparison is not condescension. This is condescension: your first comma should have been a period, but even then, your “sentence” is grammatically incorrect.

  11. noindiecred says:

    Why all the EKU hate? It’s a fantastic university and the new performing arts center will help it be even better. All the bashers sound like snobs to me. More and better arts venues in central Kentucky are better for everyone, whether they live in Danville or Richmond.

  12. gouk says:

    Sorry to mislead you, kyjoe – “pleze” was carefully chosen for it’s ironic application.

  13. Robert Garver says:

    babymamadrama – I was referring to the comments concerning EKU made by “getreal” and they are indeed condescending. Maybe you are the one that needs to refer to a dictionary.

  14. Chris Coffman says:

    The comments on this thread must be some sort of cruel joke. Kentucky may boast more than one decent performing arts location in the region, UK excepted, and somehow that draws ire? It is, I suppose, simply preposterous that both Centre and EKU may offer something to performers from the region and from without.

    Astounding, yet disappointing. Maybe the taxpayers would rather build an Ark at the University of the Cumberlands.

  15. Amadeus says:

    I am in accord with indiecred. The addition of the arts center at EKU is a positive development for the school and the area. Centre is a fine, small liberal-arts college; EKU is a fine regional university. Each goes about its mission successfully. Kudos for both schools.

  16. KY Arts Lover says:

    Really, the blogger started this silly business with his attempt to spark controversy where none exists. Centre and the Norton Center are fabulous and will continue to be. If Ms. Hoskins can make the EKU center a great venue with first-rate entertainment, then that’s great, too. Everyone who cares deeply about this, be sure to buy your tickets at both places!

  17. Chris says:

    No thanks on buying the tickets, KY Arts Lover. I don’t relish taking out a second mortgage in order to buy their tickets. It’s unbelievable how much they charge for even the most mundane performances at Norton.

  18. JJ says:

    OK, all you jaw-jutting quasi-intellectual art snobs need to lay off the high-brow-Thirston-Howell schtick, pry your hands away from the latest issue of the New Yorker for one minute, and give Kentucky a big proud round of applause for having ANYTHING at all supporting the arts in the region. In my mind, this new facility is one more step towards progress in gradually chipping away at the “back-woods” stereotypes that Kentucky has been saddled with far too long. And comparing EKU and Center is apples and oranges — both serve an important role in this state with different purposes. Oh, I suppose EKU and the eastern region of the state is somehow not worthy — too many hillbillies, huh? Give me a break! It’s exactly the kind of thing that’s long over due! Embrace it, celebrate it, support it. Norton and the rest are already well-established and will do just fine. So… Congrats Hoskins, congrats EKU, congrats KY!

  19. SC techie says:

    Trying to keep up with Performing Arts Centers, theaters and auditoriums that are rapidly springing up from the ground, I am somewhat fascinated at the current developments in KY.

    No one in this thread has mentioned the SKyPAC in Bowling Green. I get that it is 3 hours from EKU, but only about an hour from Nashville and also along an interstate, I65. That makes a straight shot to Louisville then Cinci then Indy for tour planning. One could also propose Knoxville to EKU to Cinci… My understanding is this center is fully independent. No University, city or county support. That is gutsy in this economy.

    I am curious how the EKU center will be funded. What percentage the University will allocate versus private and corporate contributions.

    Any way you look at it the growth an addition of new arts centers in KY or any state should be a good thing.

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