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Lyric’s first major shift in leadership

New strategic plan predicts extended period of loss on major events at the Lyric

By Patrice K. Muhammad, editor

In 2018 more than half of Historic Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center Board of Directors are new, with the potential for a major shift since opening in 2010.

Nine newly approved Lyric Board members will begin or fill unexpired terms this month. Percy Thomas, Dei’re Fox, Astarre Gudino, Bruce Mundy were appointed by the Lyric Board.  Amy Caudill, Carolyn Dunn, Candice Rider, Patricia Tatum and Latarika Young have accepted Lyric Board appointments from Mayor Gray.

Several Lyric Task Force members helped cut the ribbon to open The Lyric in 2010. (Photo: M. Stallons)

The end of the Lyric Task Force era

When the Lyric Board of was commissioned, 3 seats were reserved for members of the Lyric Task Force. The Task Force, which was formed in 2007 and chaired by Juanita Betz Peterson, was an appointed group of community members who were responsible for gathering public input and researching similar projects to guide the design of the theatre.

Mrs. Peterson, previously an Arts Consultant for the Kentucky Department of Education and Community Development Director for the Univ. of Kentucky Chancellor, along with Former Second District Councilman Robert Jefferson and former Univ. of Kentucky King Cultural Center Founding Director Chester Grundy were Task Force members who were appointed as original Lyric Board members. Officially, Peterson, Jefferson and Grundy are the last of “the original’’ planners and board members.

The remaining current board members are Chairman Councilman James Brown, Glenda George, Candice Rider, Olivia N. Davis, LeTonia Jones, Melissa Murphy and State Rep. George Brown.

Two plans – Two strategies

2015-2019 Strategic Plan

In 2018, the board will enter year four of the most recent 5-year plan of operation. The 2015-2019 Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center Strategic Plan was completed in January 2015.

The current plan lists “support from the city’’ as a ‘’Top Area of Praise”. From 2015-2019 City Council has allocated on average $147,500 (yearly) to the Lyric for operations.

According to the plan, the Lyric is losing money on major performances. From the plan: “Year one-three goal- Maintain the Net Loss at $4000 per major performance (4 a year at $16,000/yr).”

A modest goal of 4 sponsors a year at $5000 each was set, and the plan calls for an equally modest 20% increase of donors (230 in 2014/avg. $20 donation).

The current plan does not include specific strategies for reaching the goals, nor is there an evaluation or acknowledgement of the previous business plan. A brief reference was made to the AMS study that was commissioned by the Lyric Task Force, which was deemed useful for planning the design of the building but deemed inadequate as a blueprint for the Theatre’s success.

2009-2014 Business Plan

The AMS study failed to answer the primary question of city council at the time. How would The Lyric differ from other arts facilities, specifically the Downtown Arts Center, Kentucky Theatre and Arts Place which all required continued city support and were viewed as “rental houses’’ according to studies?

At the request of then Councilperson Andrea James, a Business Plan committee was appointed by then Vice-Mayor Jim Gray, who produced a detailed plan for unique integrated programming and business-like operation.

Unlike the current plan, a net profit was projected on major events. The plan called for $130,000 to be spent on programming which would result in $174,000 in tickets sales.

The previous plan imagined city contributions of $150,000 for 2 years with a varied reduction for the next 3 years ending with a $75,000 contribution in year 5.

The Way Forward

                Donations, sponsorships, programming and attendance at The Lyric has not been as high as predicted.

Freda Meriwether was elected the first Lyric Board Chair and knows first-hand the challenge that awaits the current Board members.

Freda found implementation of the 2009 plan impossible with the Lyric’s starting capital, which was only the $150,000 given by the city. “The main difficulty was not having the appropriate amount of funding to do what was in the plan. It is important that the Lyric has corporate support and look to create an endowment,” Freda said.

One of the last tasks of the 2017 Board members was altering job duties of the paid staff and adopting performance review procedures.

“The new staffing alignment will put us in a position to be successful,” said current Chairman Councilman James Brown. He said there will be more “points of contact and information available to consumers.”

The addition of performance reviews, “will offer a better level of in house accountability,” the Councilman said.

Fundraising duties have shifted to the Executive Director of The Lyric and is no longer a stand-alone position.

Freda feels that Board of The Lyric should also shoulder the responsibility of sponsor recruitment. Describing the traits of good Lyric Board members, Freda said, “Dedication to the mission of the Lyric, willingness to use their personal and business network for financial support and sweat equity, not just attend monthly meetings.”

The Friends of the Lyric organization should have been a major financial contributor and the volunteer base should have reduced hours of paid staff required to make the theatre function.

The Friends group is defunct, and has been so for many years, despite an active status with the Secretary of State and a publicly listed Board.

State Rep. George Brown has been a member of the Lyric Board since inception and currently occupies the Board seat reserved for chair of The Friends of the Lyric.

Rep. Brown said that the Friends major fundraising effort, the sale of bricks and pavers, has been given to The Lyric and staff handles the continued sale.

In the future, “The role of the Friends of the Lyric could be incorporated into the board of directors,” said Rep. Brown.

If the Friends organization disbands, a new Board seat could become available.

Councilman Brown wants to assure the community of potential donors that The Lyric board is serious about a successful future.

“The Lyric is on the right path and anyone that has an interest or would like to have partnership with the Lyric should reach out and not let negative experience with the organization [be a deterrent]”, Councilman Brown said.

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