PORT ANGELES — Kyle LeMaire is a southerner and a New Yorker, an actor and an arts administrator.
He’s also the newly hired executive director of the Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts, a Port Angeles-born institution he hopes to expand.
“We are the arts organization of the (North Olympic) Peninsula,” including both Clallam and Jefferson counties, LeMaire, 38, said in an interview this week about the Juan de Fuca Foundation for the Arts (JFFA).
“My goal is for every single person to know what (JFFA) is and what it does,” from the multi-day Juan de Fuca Festival in May to the Season Concerts series slated to restart this September.
LeMaire most recently worked in the accounting department at Serenity House of Clallam County; before he moved to Port Angeles in August 2020, he served as education director for the Open Arts Alliance, a children’s theater company in Greenwich, Conn., and was company manager of the Victory Dance Project in New York City.
He first visited the North Olympic Peninsula in 2017 with his husband, Morgan Bartholick-LeMaire, who grew up here.
“Morgan told me about how important the Juan de Fuca Festival was for him,” during his youth, “and how it made him want to be an artist. That was my first introduction,” LeMaire recalled.
Now that Morgan, a theater artist, violinist and violist, is back in his hometown, he’s active with the Port Angeles Community Players and with the Port Angeles Symphony.
LeMaire, who grew up in Abbeville, La., earned a master of fine arts in acting at The New School, a university in New York City.
As JFFA’s executive director, LeMaire will work with the foundation’s administrative manager Kari Chance on presenting live performances, educational programs and, come 2022, the 30th anniversary Juan de Fuca Festival on Memorial Day weekend.
LeMaire was hired earlier this month in the midst of JFFA’s Concerts on the Pier series. The free shows by mostly local bands have been drawing 250 to 300 people, he said.
Next Wednesday at 6 p.m., the classic hits band Black Diamond Junction will give this summer’s final City Pier concert. Information about this and other JFFA programs can be found at JFFA.org.
As for the Season Concerts lineup — the Canadian duo Small Glories will start the series Sept. 19 at the Naval Elks Lodge downtown — LeMaire must contend with the pandemic’s power to change everything.
“Right now, it’s very difficult to really plan,” he admitted.
“We’re asking everyone to be really flexible … we are working on focusing day to day, and calling everything as we get more information.”
Supplementing the Season Concerts with a virtual option is a possibility, LeMaire said.
He added that while other concert promoters have chosen to allow only fully vaccinated patrons into their events, JFFA hasn’t yet adopted such a policy.
But “it’s not off the table for the future,” LeMaire said.
The new executive director does plan to go to the Arts Northwest Booking Conference in Spokane on Oct. 11-13. The event is where JFFA has discovered bands and artists from across the region and added them to the Season Concerts and festival lineup.
Melody Charno, president of the JFFA board of directors, said LeMaire, one of three candidates interviewed for the top post, dazzled her with his preparation for their meeting.
“He arrived with pages and pages of notes, ideas — and excitement,” she said.
“He just has this whole positive energy around him that made everything seem possible.”
The executive director job continues to be part time at 30 hours weekly but could evolve into full time, Charno added, though she didn’t know when that change could happen.
The arts, LeMaire emphasized, are for everyone; they teach us how to empathize, collaborate and solve problems together.
When communities invest in the arts, they can shift the tide in tourism and business, LeMaire believes, and become more prosperous both financially and socially.
“What art has done for the world, and what it does for people to grow as humans — there is no other experience a person can have that can do that,” he said.
Longtime JFFA board member Steve Gilchrist noted that, unlike previous executive directors — Kayla Oakes, Dan Maguire, Anna Manildi — LeMaire comes from outside the region and has no history with the organization.
So, Gilchrist said, “he brings an entirely new perspective and experience with him. I know he has ideas of how an arts nonprofit should be run,” which might differ from the way JFFA has operated since Karen Hanan founded it nearly three decades ago.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]