New Centrum director: Let's draw more people
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“What impresses me the most about the programs here is the integrity of what we do,” said Rob Birman after 10 days on the job at the multidisciplinary nonprofit arts organization based at Fort Worden State Park.
“Whether it's the writers' workshop or the folk or the jazz or the fiddle tunes, what Centrum offers is unique anywhere in America,” Birman said.
“There is no other place where we offer so many niche art forms in one place.”
Birman, 45, who most recently was the chief executive officer of the Louisville Orchestra in Kentucky, takes over for John MacElwee, who resigned in November.
He is making about $100,000 a year, Centrum Board Chairwoman Cindy McBride said.
Birman, who oversees about 17 employees, hopes to bring new audiences to the niche programs.
“People don't always know what they like, so they like what they know,” Birman said.
“We offer programs that provide great variety, which allows people to drill down, and it enlightens them.
“The biproduct of integrity is trust, and if you trust Centrum to provide quality programs, you will trust them and come to a performance.”
Birman's path to Port Townsend was something of a whirlwind.
He resigned his last position Jan. 21 and was offered the Centrum position Feb. 13 under the condition that he begin work Feb. 25.
The rush was to accommodate the schedule of Jim Costello, interim director, so that Birman's first days would overlap with Costello's last.
Birman's expansion strategy doesn't involve increasing the size of the workshops, which usually have drawn about 300 people each.
Rather, he seeks to offer more concerts that fit into the current Centrum style, which he said is acoustically based, and draw people from a wider area.
“I think we want to draw people from a 300-mile radius, which will give us a footprint to grow,” Birman said.
“We also want to deepen our relationship with the city and build more partnerships, to draw more people here not only to the park, but to our restaurants, hotels and clubs.”
Birman is scheduled to guide Centrum through the establishment of a lifelong learning center under a public development authority.
The Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority is creating a co-management plan with State Parks in which the PDA will manage an educational campus area — about one-fourth of the 434-acre park, which contains most of the buildings — while State Parks continues management of the campgrounds, Chinese gardens, trails, lighthouse and shoreline.
Also, this year will see an addition to the Centrum schedule: a ukulele festival that is scheduled for Sept. 11-13.
The event hasn't been advertised or publicized but already has 85 of the 115 slots reserved.
Other events on the Centrum calendar include the Choro Workshop, April 3-7; Voice Works, June 24-30; Fiddle Tunes, June 30-July 7; Jazz, July 21-28; and Acoustic Blues, July 28-Aug. 4.
Events for writers include the Creative Nonfiction Workshop from June 13-16, the Advanced High School Writer's Studio from July 7-14 and the Writer's Conference from July 7-21.
“People have all kinds of entertainment options, but we offer a social experience with the opportunity to enjoy the performance with your neighbors in a comfortable place,” Birman said.
“This sets us aside from what is available elsewhere.”
For more information, visit www.centrum.org.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: March 12. 2013 6:02PM