MAIN STREET THEATER: A NEW HOME AT 40
Houston Arts Alliance
Visitors who walk into the administrative offices of Main Street Theater will most likely overhear chitchat about heavy construction before anything thespian.
Not because drama plays a supporting role to what’s taking shape next door at 2540 Times Blvd. in Rice Village. It’s because the $3.3 million capital campaign, aptly nicknamed “There’s no place like home,” is in the final months both in terms of fundraising and construction — just in time for the company’s 40th anniversary season.
Brick is being installed in the façade. The structural frame is being inspected in preparation for sheetrock and the decorative elements — flooring, cabinetry, fixtures, paint, glass and more. The staff is excitedly curious to learn what’s happening day to day within a stone’s throw from their desks.
Capital Campaign Director and Development Associate Joe Kirkendall, who’s been involved with Main Street Theater since the mid 1980s, believes strongly in carpe diem. Every opportunity to tour the space with a potential donor, interested party or art consumer ends with friendly photographs and selfies that are plastered all over social media. The progress of the building has become a viral phenomenon within the arts community. There’s even a blog dedicated to documenting every detail of the renovation.
Executive Artistic Director Rebecca Greene Udden makes it look effortless, as though she can do this in her sleep.
“There was a lot of unexpected structural work,” Udden says. “When you tear up old walls, you often uncover surprises. But all of that is behind us, and we’re moving swiftly toward completion.”
Getting to this point, however, when the 16-member staff no longer has to ask, “Are we there yet?,” has been a long work in progress with a false start. The capital campaign for the 1940s structure, which was originally a laundry business, had to be put on hold when economic conditions indicated that a multimillion dollar project would not end in applause. The ambitious venture, which included purchasing property, was publicly relaunched in 2013.
Thanks to the Capacity Building Initiative’s Sustainability program from Houston Arts Alliance, Main Street Theater has been able to obtain additional support to create a strategic plan that strengthened the company’s operations. Working alongside consultant Joe Synan, Founder and President of Leadingwell Associates, Main Street Theater has been evolving the volunteer board into one that has greater oversight.
“The board used to assume that the staff would take care of everything — because our team is so good,” Udden says. “But in growing the board, we’ve worked hard to shift project ownership to them. Sure, we can provide guidance, but an engaged board can help increase contributed income.”
With the many education programs and youth classes, Main Street Theater has benefited from a steady earned revenue stream. But as the company enters a new chapter in its history of being lean and conservative, additional pressures to increase fundraising means the nonprofit has to modify its operational focus. New facilities requires more administrative muscle. More administrative muscle requires more resources. More resources requires increasing the board from 18 members to upward of 40.
“Try to do that while executing a capital campaign!” Kirkendall jokes. “It’s very challenging to do it all at once.”
Kirkendall saw an opportunity to grow the theater’s governing body through HAA’s innovative Arts & Business Council Board Leadership for the Arts, a training program focused on preparing individual business professionals for effective volunteer, nonprofit board leadership. What Kirkendall describes as a speed-dating event yielded two additional and effective board members.
“Having Houston Arts Alliance vet candidates and prepare them for nonprofit service was invaluable,” he says. “They understand that board members are vital, that they are responsible for the fiduciary operations of the company and that they are essentially here to raise money and open doors for us.”
With competition on the horizon, Director of Marketing and Development Shannon Emerick, whose relationship with Main Street Theater began in 1996, is thrilled to kick off the main stage season with “Silent Sky” by Lauren Gunderson. The production runs from Nov. 1 through Nov. 29.
“Gunderson is a compelling playwright,” Emerick says. “She’s fascinated by science and writes with passion in a language that’s down and dirty human. It’s somewhat high brow and very accessible.”
All the artistic troupe needs is access to its new home.