The new year has barely started and changes are already underway across Mobile’s artistic landscape. I guess shifting focus should be expected in a year named after perfect eyesight.
Starting Jan. 1, downtown’s Alabama Contemporary Art Center (ACAC) has implemented a shift with personnel and responsibilities. Moving forward, the organization looks like this:
– Elizabet Elliott, Executive Director/Curator
– Angie Yankle, Director of Finance and Operations
– Allison Skoda, Curator of Programs
– Amanda Solley, Curator of Education
– Amber Guy, Visitor Services Coordinator
According to Elliott, the previous executive director, Solley, returned from maternity leave last year with a desire to focus her efforts on education. Elliott, then-Director of Exhibitions and Programs, agreed to assume the helm.
Development duties will be apportioned out among those listed.
The restructuring was the result of an internal audit conducted following a year in which membership grew by Elliott’s estimate of “approximately 800 percent.” ACAC also acquired new resources in 2019, including a $100,000 grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation and hope to retain that inertia.
“We have such a great staff right now,” Elliott told Artifice. “I’m really lucky to have these people to work with because everyone is really committed to what we’re doing.”
Elliott came to ACAC from the Mobile Museum of Art (MMoA) in November 2018. She worked at MMoA for “five years, including independent contractor stuff.” That included stints as Curator of Adult Education and Curator of Programs.
(Dairy) field of dreams
Another image grows sharper on the west side of Midtown as a crucial presentation looms for an arts denizen looking to solve several problems with one big project.
Back in March, Artifice spelled out an idea from Chris Paragone, founder of Sunnyside Theater and Azalea City Center for the Arts. He wants to develop six acres on the old Graf Dairy property at Dauphin and Sage, then relocate his arts facility from their present spot at Midtown Park East, near Dauphin Street and Interstate 65.
Paragone knows Mobile has a shortage of mid-sized theatrical venues. He feels the needs of community theater, dance, opera and others can be met with this project.
Paragone has pushed forward to secure funding for planning. That included funding a building design from a local architect and several studies aimed to have all questions answered for official agencies.
“An engineering firm in Mobile [has] done the site prep. We hired a geotechnical firm. We hired a wetlands conservationist. We did a traffic study. We hired an arborist to tell us if we’re cutting down anything important,” Paragone said.
His aim is to sit before the local building commission before the end of January. He described an impressive facility with a black-box theater and grid lighting system like the one at the University of South Alabama, plus something bigger.
“There will be a 500-seat theater with state-of-the-art lighting and sound and a mid-curtain that can be drawn to create a 250-seat, more intimate space. All told, both floors, it’s going to be about 70,000 square feet, a lot of space,” Paragone said.
He named the local company Pixallure as the developers of a marketing and a capital campaign. He also said the Ben May Foundation was impressed enough to cut two checks.
Paragone has undeniably identified an unfilled niche. Mobile has a pair of large venues downtown in the approximately 2,000-seat Saenger and the Civic Center theaters, but both have drawbacks.
The Civic Center hasn’t been maintained in the manner it needed for the last half-century. Its long-term fate is still in doubt.
The Saenger is a good concert space, but wasn’t designed for modern theater. It doesn’t have a pit, much wing space, extensive dressing facilities, a shop or other theatrical amenities. The fly gallery is loaded with the symphony shell. Then there’s the matter of all those excess seats.
“There was a time back in the ’80s and on into the ’90s that we needed [those seats] but we don’t particularly need that much space now. It’s a difficult situation,” Mobile Opera Executive Director Scott Wright said.
The commission is the next step for Paragone but the real climb is going to be capital. Chipola College in Marianna, Florida, built a 56,000-square-foot facility in 2012 for $16 million. This project could be comparable.
But here’s to Paragone for envisioning what could prove a huge boost for area cultural efforts. He said representatives from Mobile Ballet, Mobile Opera, Mobile Theatre Guild and Dance Without Limits are highly interested, so any prayers answered would be more than his.
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