| The newly merged staff take their seats at the Liberty Theatre. The celebration begins there today, Jan. 2, at 5:30 p.m. The public is invited. Courtesy photo
It’s always a who’s who of talent parading through and dropping their fabulous artistry on the Wood River Valley, and despite a listless economy, 2012 was no exception.
But one of the most surprising events of the year perhaps came in the final days of 2012 and will be celebrated at 5:30 p.m. today, Jan. 2, at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey, with toasts and remarks, reflections and forecasts. The news is that the 40-year-old Sun Valley Center for the Arts and the 17-year-old Company of Fools are merging to further ramp up—if that’s possible—the world-class arts adventures in the Wood River Valley.
The merger makes the Sun Valley Center for the Arts among the three largest arts organizations in Idaho. The nonprofit Center, founded in 1971, is the oldest arts organization in the Wood River Valley. It offers exhibits, lectures, classes and performing arts events. Company of Fools was started in Richmond, Va., in 1992. It moved to Hailey in 1996 and has since produced dozens of plays at the Liberty Theatre. Both organizations also have massive education programs.
“This is a really significant merger for deepening what we’re able to do for our community,” explained an enthused Company of Fools core artist Denise Simone days after the ink had dried on the contract. “Rather than downsizing, we’re enriching our programming.”
The Center’s Kristine Bretall, director of marketing and performing arts, added that the meshing will allow for expansion of The Center’s already multidisciplinary approach to exhibits, “making the connections among the perspectives more clear while connecting more deeply into the community.”
The process has been a long and diligent one, which began in early spring and gained cautious momentum with task forces and lawyers’ and patrons’ input continuing into the fall. All the while, both organizations kept up a whirlwind of activity, like Bonnie Raitt and Pink Martini for The Center, and “The Woman in Black” and ongoing improv in the schools for The Company.
The brick and mortar of the merger meant Company of Fools dissolved its nonprofit organization and moved under the umbrella of The Center. The catalyst was “a mix of a lot of things,” Simone said, not the least of which was how to divide up the dwindling federal and state funding for arts organizations.
“Both organizations have had to look at how we’re serving our community in a different way,” she said. “The great thing is we so respect each other’s programming already. We literally have the same mission and strategic plans. We looked at the legacy of the Company and the future for the community.”
The more they talked and researched it, “the more we realized how much sense it made,” Bretall said. The emphasis of that union was characterized in the way the two women ended up finishing each other’s thoughts like a long married couple.
“It can be such a stop-and-start thing,” Bretall continued. “We decided we were already on the same path, let’s just hold hands and jump in together.”
What it means for financial patrons of
either organization will not be too evident on the surface. Each organization already has a system in place to send patronage dollars to whatever event or events one chooses to support. There was a push internally from both sides asking for an $11 boost from each patron to move the process ahead, and all was done with the aid of well-known strategic planner John McCann.
For audiences and visitors, it means that now the Company will have representation in Hailey with the Ezra Pound House and The Center will have an additional space to use.
Company of Fools forged a deal years ago with Bruce Willis and Demi Moore to use the Liberty Theatre without a lease, but only so long as the company remains in good standing with the community and is supported financially.
Willis and Moore are fully behind the merger, Simone said.
The first exhibition in the near future to experience the early realized strength of the merger will be over “Home Front,” which focuses on the realities of returning soldiers. It will be on display Feb. 23 to May 3 at The Center in Ketchum, and includes a reading by Company actors of “Time Stands Still,” a play by Donald Margulies about a photojournalist and her reporter boyfriend who have returned to the states after covering the war in Iraq.
Sally Boettger and Kristin Poole have served as co-executive directors at The Center since March 2011 and are now to in refined roles, serving as executive director and artistic director, respectively.
Said Boettger, whose focus now will include business planning, governance, finance and other administrative duties, “We are committed to making changes when we know they are smart, will lead to efficiencies and offer new and better outcomes for the community.”