Talented and Smart,
Jamie Grady Plays New Role at Averitt
What does Jamie Grady, the new executive director of the Averitt Center for the Arts, like best about the opportunity to run the community’s three arts venues? “I like the adventure, the discovery, the exploring, the excitement, the response of working with others to make an impact on the community through the arts,” he said. “I learn something new with every experience.”
An arts consultant for almost 20 years, Grady was attracted to the challenges of leading an arts organization such as the Averitt, with an impressive footprint in the downtown area. “I’m excited about being able to make a difference here,” he said.
As a consultant, Grady has worked with a variety of arts organizations including the Long Island Youth Orchestra where he served as both administrator and fundraiser. He developed a business plan for a live Quiz Show and a strategic plan for the New Jersey Ballet.
His fundraising expertise led to a position with a political organization, the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. While in Wellington, New Zealand, Grady worked with the national symphony orchestra increasing fundraising and participation.
Grady has also served as an assistant professor lecturing in fundraising, theater management, publicity, marketing, and production at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, Point Park University in Pittsburg, and Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.
A native of Massachusetts, Grady grew up in Holyoke, the third of four children in the Irish family of Jim and Joan Grady. There he attended public schools where he was taught Latin for three years and remembers being greatly influenced by teacher Tom Donahue. The liberal arts education he received made an early impression.
“By fourth grade I was playing the guitar,” he said. “In middle school I took up photography, developing sports photos in a dark room.”
By high school he was playing guitar with four guys in a band they named “The Narrowbacks.”
“I was the manager and I talked to bar owners and negotiated the contracts for us to play around the area in local bars and at festivals. We toured Connecticut and were doing it mostly for fun,” he said.
“I was an industrious person, I had a paper route, a small route, and at one point a customer on the route had a box of records: Beatles, Bread, America, the Rolling Stones, the blues. I rang the bell and asked to buy the box for $10. There had to be at least 100 albums in that box and I listened to every one of them. That experience shaped me to try the fringe, to listen to new things,” he said.
“I did joint enrollment in college with both classical music and photography. I wasn’t sure about jobs for photographers. I could only think of newspapers, so I chose to finish with a business degree for general application,” he said.
He had two best friends in college that shared his interest in music. “One liked heavy metal and the other liked the Grateful Dead. I was more 80’s music. We became friends and saw shows and learned from each other,” he said.
The dad of one of his college friends once invited Dizzy Gillespie into the family’s home. After that experience, “we would go to Boston to listen to jazz and we liked it,” said Grady.
When he graduated, he had no idea what kind of job to pursue. “Corporate jobs were not attractive to me. I found a position with a non-profit theater company in Springfield, Mass.,” he said. “I ate it up. It was a very ‘theatrical’ experience. I became as involved as I could, the sets, the lighting. I started going to all kinds of plays. There had been two in college that I saw, Cats and Glengarry Glenn Ross with Jack Lemmon and Kevin Spacey. Those experiences really opened my eyes to the theater.”
When the performance season ended, Grady worked in summer stock in Western Mass.
After working with a variety of shows and gaining experience with all facets of theater production, he decided to go back to college for a Masters in arts administration. That led to a job as managing director of Actor’s Express, a theater company in Atlanta, at the young age of 30.
“I sort of fell into theater and was excited that I could have that much fun for a living,” he said.
He left Atlanta to serve as development director for the Little Theatre of Winston-Salem, N.C., and then became managing director of The Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, N.Y. He was also co-founder and managing director of the Icarus Theatre Ensemble in Ithaca. His work with professional theater organizations provided both experience and insight.
“Everybody has to see Shakespeare for the first time,” he said. “It’s like fine wine, food, and taste. The palette for good theater develops over time.”
As an arts presenter, Grady wants to create a memorable experience for the audience with each performance production.
“You have to be conscious of that. You don’t want people to be afraid of going to the theater. What to wear? How to act? You want to remove those barriers and create an opportunity for the audience to participate in the experience of seeing the play. I don’t want the public to be intimidated by theater.”
Grady plans to create that welcoming atmosphere. “I envision myself sharing the experience with the audience,” he said. “I always ask myself, ‘how can I make it richer for them?’ so they will want to come back for more. I want them to know they can see an amazing performance, have a wonderful experience, and meet new people at the Averitt Center, you don’t have to go to Savannah or Atlanta.”
He is developing plans for other areas of the arts at the Averitt Center, as well, and has already started a collaboration with the Statesboro Regional Art Association, featuring artists’ paintings for sale in the Rosengart Gallery at 41 West Main Street. He has plans to add a small snack bar for dance and theater students and waiting parents.
Plans are underway for an exciting fall performance season and classes for children and adults in dance, visual arts, and music.
“We will have an Eagle’s tribute band in September. Also, Paul Taylor, a smooth jazz saxophonist who has released 11 albums, will be coming. He has performed at the Lincoln Center in New York. That’s going to be a great and unique experience. I hope to be able to attract more quality performances for our audiences. People are going to get spoiled.”
Grady is also open to ideas. “This isn’t my theater,” he said. “It’s everybody’s theater.”
And it takes community support to keep it going. “I think there is a perception that the Averitt Center is fully funded by the City, but we receive a percentage of our budget from the City. We have to raise the funds to cover almost 2/3 of our budget and sponsors for our performances are vital. We really need for the community to support us and attend. It is the community’s arts center,” Grady said.
He would like to see the Emma Kelly Theater and the Whitaker Black Box being used more.
“I want to try to make the main stage and the black box more active and to offer a greater variety of performances,” he said, “I would like for the Averitt Center to be seen as a vibrant destination. My sense is that people want to be involved in something more cosmopolitan and I believe we can offer that,” he said.