Oxford Performing Arts Center goes online
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Oct 23, 2013 | 3958 views |  0 comments | 90 90 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Oxford performing arts center in May, before it hosted the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
The Oxford performing arts center in May, before it hosted the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
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Members of the crowd at tonight’s performances by Marty Raybon and Jacksonville native Riley Green at the Oxford Performing Arts Center had to show up to buy their tickets in person.

Starting Nov. 1, those who want to attend future shows at the city of Oxford’s new, $10.4 million venue will be able to order tickets online, as the company the City Council hired to help improve the center’s business operations completes its work.

Among the features of the online ticketing system, buyers will be shown a photo taken from the vantage point of their seat in the theater.

“Just so you know exactly what to expect when you get to the venue,” said John Longshore, a consultant with Arts Venues Management, the firm hired by the city to help set up the business side of the center, which opened in May.

The company, which began work there in September, is nearly done, city officials said this week.

“We’re pleased with the progress they’ve made so far,” said Don Hudson, city parks and recreation director.

The Parks and Recreation Department oversees operation of the center.

Online ticket sales, which are expected to become available through the $10.4 million center’s website beginning Nov. 1, should boost revenue and make buying tickets more convenient, Longshore said.

“That’s certainly what we anticipate. Certainly, some older individuals are uncomfortable with buying online, so there is still an option for them to buy in person,” Longshore said. “But a lot of people are much happier if we can just punch in our credit card online and print our tickets immediately.”

The policies and procedures that cover venue rental and daily operation of the 1,200-seat theater are nearing completion, he said, and will likely be brought to the City Council for a vote in early November.

The website – www.oxfordpac.org – is online, but some work remains to complete it, Longshore said. Prior to the website the center’s only Internet presence was a Facebook account.

The decision to hire the consulting firm, which is being paid $4,750 each month until the work is complete, came after the center’s first director, Rani Welch, resigned after five months on the job. Welch had said she wanted to spend more time with her young son, and at her Oxford dance studio. The city hired an interim director after Welch’s resignation.

There’s no timeline on hiring a new, full-time director, Hudson said. The consultants are drafting a list of job qualifications to help the city fill the position, he said.

“Finding somebody to run a facility like that is quit a task, because it’s a rather unconventional job,” Longshore said.

The company is also developing a long-range capital plan for the center, Longshore said, which includes a list of equipment needed to keep the center going.

“For example, it’s going to be critical that they have a lift that they can drive on stage to change lighting positions,” Longshore said.

While some cities are cutting funding for arts programs, Longshore said it’s good to see a city like Oxford invest in it.

“It’s really incredible that a smaller city like Oxford is able to fund the arts to the level that they are,” Longshore said.

It speaks to the city leaders’ desire to improve the quality of life in Oxford, he said.

The City Council in September appropriated $325,000 to the center to pay for performances throughout the 2013-14 fiscal year. City officials have said that while it is difficult to estimate how much the center will make in ticket sales, they predicted those sales will bring in $200,000 this year in the city’s 2014 budget.

All three major public funding streams for arts programs nationwide – federal, state and local governments – have declined in the past decade, according to a 2012 study by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, a nonprofit arts advocacy organization.

Local government funding of the arts grew by 33 percent from 1992 to 2002, reaching an all-time high of $898 million in 2008, according to the study. Since 2008, however, the study found that local government funding decreased by 18 percent.

Statewide, the Alabama Arts Council awarded $1.5 million to state arts organizations for the 2013-14 fiscal year. That’s a slight increase from last year’s $1.4 million but it’s $685,780 less than was awarded in 2009.

Investing in the arts is also good for local economies, Longshore said. Oxford’s venue will draw in out-of-town money from patrons who will shop and eat and stay in local hotels.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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