With each step he took Thursday, Jason Jon Anderson described another facet of a building designed not only as an attractive structure but as the linchpin of downtown revitalization.
As he entered Jamf Theatre, the smaller of two theaters in the Confluence Arts Center, Anderson noted the adjustable seating that will be installed in the venue. He pointed to the theater’s fire retardant insulation and described that space’s versatility.
“This will be the largest black box theater in the Midwest,” the 38-year-old Anderson said, amid saws buzzing and machinery pounding nearby.
A short time later, he told how the arts center’s walls aren’t exactly square, a feature that absorbs sound, creating a better audio experience for visitors. He discussed a wooden finish “that will give this building an Eau Claire feel” and how other design concepts are supposed to offer the impression of flowing water, a reflection of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers that merge just outside the $47 million center.
The tour of the three-story building continued, and at each stop along the way Anderson offered up further details. His detailed knowledge of the building and its intended purpose — to serve not only as a high-end venue that further showcases Eau Claire’s burgeoning arts scene but as a place that is a welcome public space — seems to make Anderson a good fit for overseeing continued construction of the arts center.
Anderson was appointed last week by the Confluence Council board that oversees arts center operations as acting executive director. He currently is assistant director of conferences and event production for University Centers at UW-Eau Claire.
Anderson was named to that job after Confluence Council members learned that the then-executive director, Kevin Miller, had not obtained a bachelor’s degree at UW-Eau Claire and a master’s degree of fine arts in theater as he had stated when he applied for the job.
Miller, who contends he believed he had earned those degrees, resigned from the job Oct. 23. That situation has prompted questions about how and when Confluence Council members became aware of the discrepancy regarding Miller’s education degrees and has cast a shadow of sorts on the arts center.
However, Confluence Council board President Vicki Hoehn said the arts center, scheduled to open in September, will proceed on that timeline and is in good hands with Anderson in charge of operations.
“The Confluence Arts Center is excited about its future under the leadership of acting executive director Anderson and looks forward to the process of identifying a great candidate to assume the executive director position on a more permanent basis,” Hoehn said.
Anderson acknowledged the reality of community members’ questions about the arts center in the wake of Miller’s abrupt departure. But he called his appointment as executive director a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” and a great honor.
“My heart is in this,” he said. “I wake up every day thinking about this job, how important it is that we do what we told the public we would do, that we make sure this is something the community can be proud of.”
Anderson has experience with large-scale building projects, having worked on the Davies Center, Centennial Hall, Towers Hall, Garfield Avenue and Schofield Auditorium projects on the UW-Eau Claire campus, as well as The Lismore hotel in downtown Eau Claire. In addition, he is production manager of the Eaux Claires and Boston Calling music festivals, and he worked for the past six years as production manager for Bon Iver.
Building the arts center has its challenges, Anderson said. The process requires balancing high-end, intricate designs with functionality and fiscal prudence. Stepping into Miller’s shoes partway through the project presents difficulties too, Anderson said.
In addition, the arts center must start booking acts to perform there. Miller’s resignation means another search for a new executive director, a process that could take at least four months, Hoehn said. Rather than wait for a new executive director to hire a director of artistic programming to line up acts, Confluence officials plan to hire someone for that position in December as originally planned, she said.
‘Something to see’
Anderson concedes he feels the pressure to make sure the much-acclaimed arts center lives up to its hype. It is important that the building be not only aesthetically pleasing and provide a high-level environment to showcase the arts, but that it generate enough income to be financially viable and serve as an economic catalyst, he said.
“This is the house of cards for the creative economy in Eau Claire,” he said. “It has to be successful for the long-term betterment of this city ... It just can’t fail.”
Anderson said he is uncertain whether he would apply to replace Miller on a more permanent basis, but he didn’t rule it out. “Right now my job is to see this project through to the next executive director, and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.
While managing the arts center is a big responsibility, it also offers possibilities, Anderson said. He is especially enthusiastic when describing the many arts center spaces where UW-Eau Claire students and other community members will have opportunities to be creative.
Anderson’s excitement about the arts center and what it can do for Eau Claire was evident as he stood at the rear of the building’s main theater, the 1,266-seat RCU Theatre. Workers erected scaffolding as he looked down at the main stage from the second floor, envisioning a packed house enjoying acts on the stage below.
“This is where the magic is going to take place,” he said, “and it’s going to be something to see.”