ArtsCenter is now minus a concerts director

Dec. 05, 2012 @ 06:00 PM

CARRBORO – Tess Mangum Ocaña, the concerts director who created the American Roots Series and other musical programming at the ArtsCenter, was laid off this week after a little more than 10 years with the venue.

ArtsCenter officials said the decision was strictly financial. Given the size of the ArtsCenter’s concert theater and the limited number of dates, “we simply cannot afford to have a concert director working anywhere near the number of hours Tess was,” said Art Menius, ArtsCenter executive director. “She is a brilliant artistic director who brought some of the most acclaimed shows the ArtsCenter has had the privilege of presenting … but there was no way to make the numbers work,” Menius said.

The Earl and Rhoda Wynn Theater, where the ArtsCenter holds concerts, seats about 350, and the cost of producing concerts is just too high, he said.

Ocaña created the American Roots Series, which kicks off again in January when Ralph Stanley takes the stage. The series is booked through June. Other artists who will perform during the series are Judy Collins, Karla Bonoff, Roger McGuinn and Suzanne Vega. Past artists have included Dr. John, Leon Russell and Rickie Lee Jones. She also created the ArtsCenter’s Celtic music series, which included performances from The Tannhill Weavers and other artists.  

For many music fans, the concert hall’s small space and acoustics make it the best place to listen to music. “I always loved the looks on patrons’ faces, particularly when performers took the stage,” Ocaña said. Her goal as concerts director “was to try to get the most incredible performers in the tiniest venue possible,” and to give audiences an up-close experience with the musicians, she said.

For many performers she booked, the ArtsCenter was their only stop in North Carolina, or even the South, she said.

Ocaña also was the facility rental coordinator. Among the organizations that rent the facility are churches and non-profit groups, which use the ArtsCenter for everything from parties to auditions.

Ocaña said she plans to remain in the Triangle.

Joe Florence, marketing and communications manager at Carolina Performing Arts, said the ArtsCenter was his favorite venue when he first moved to the area. “At Carolina Performing Arts, we want the arts community beyond Memorial [Hall] to thrive,” Florence said. “I’m really sorry to hear it,” he said of the layoff.

In addition to concerts and theater, the ArtsCenter conducts classes in all art forms for adults and children. The ArtsCenter will try to find ways to continue its education mission and concert presentation, “in a fiscally responsible fashion,” Menius said.

Founded in 1974, the ArtsCenter has come through some difficult times, as have many similar non-profit arts organizations. In February 2011 the center’s board eliminated two administrative positions. The organization faced a $250,000 deficit, but in October 2011 the board reported that a combination of grants and increased memberships put the ArtsCenter in better financial position. The board began a search for a new executive director, and hired Menius in April.