A $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts – secured with matching grants from the Edgar B. Hollis Trust – means more classically oriented, free performances at the Donald W. Nixon Centre for Performing and Visual Arts this season.
“It’s really amazing,” said Missy Ballantyne, Patrons of the Centre board chairman. “We’re very excited.”
The Patrons were awarded the grant, which will fund Centre Stage Series shows by the Queen’s Cartoonists, Ensemble Chaconne, JigJam and Shana Tucker. Limited seating is available for the four shows, all of which are being presented at no cost to the public.
Access to the arts was the focus of the grant money.
“All Americans should have access to the arts,” said Mary Ann Carter, acting chairman of the NEA. “Grants such as this one to the Patrons of the Centre are an important part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ work to ensure people in communities both large and small across the nation have the opportunity to experience the arts.”
The Nixon Centre is the school system’s central hub for all things fine arts-related. The 48,000-square-foot building opened in 2004, with its construction funded primarily through a voter-approved local sales tax earmarked for education.
As envisioned by the late Don Nixon – the school system’s coordinator of fine arts and the Centre’s first director – the facility features a lobby capable of accommodating galas and other events; an art gallery; lecture halls; large dressing rooms and a theater that holds more than 1,000 people.
Since opening, the Nixon Centre has been utilized so widely and so often that the school system recently began work to expand the facility. Among other renovations, plans call for an additional multi-purpose space to provide adequate space for performers during statewide and regional competitions.
Cathe Nixon, who was named director of the facility after her husband passed away in 2016, said the Nixon Centre strives to serve its intended purpose – to be an extension of the classroom for students of all ages, including the community at large.
The Nixon Centre is available for use by residents of surrounding communities, with priority given to the school system. That ensures a mix of students, local, state and national exhibits and performances on an ongoing basis.
The Patrons, a nonprofit 501(c)3 support organization for the Centre, “strive to sustain artistic excellence in our community through a broad range of cultural and artistic opportunities,” according to its vision statement. The group’s direct financial support of the Nixon Centre allows for additional public events and educational opportunities.
That partnership and community outreach made the Patrons a good fit for the grant, which at first seemed too good to be true when NEA representative Katie Levy first reached out in November of 2018, according to Ballantyne.
“They called us and said, ‘We want you to apply for special funding we have for this year,’” she said. “Katie Levy said, ‘Y’all have been on our radar. We’ve been watching what you’re doing at the Centre, the way the Patrons are supporting the Centre and the way the Centre is going out into the community. This is money that’s earmarked for this kind of community involvement and endeavor.’”
During a whirlwind grant application process with Levy guiding the way, the government shut down.
“It was right in the middle of all of that, but we ended up getting it done and getting it in,” Ballantyne said.
Word came in the spring that the Nixon Centre had been awarded the grant, in plenty of time to book and promote the series.
“Arts are so important in our community,” Ballantyne said. “Don Nixon’s dream always was to bring things in for people to see that they can afford. And this grant allows us to broaden the opportunities for different kinds of classically oriented musical shows, some with a fun twist.”
For information on the Centre Stage Series, call 770-254-2787. To learn more about the Patrons of the Centre, email CentrePatrons@gmail.com .