Saturday, August 18, 2018

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Confluence Arts Center: Newly hired artistic director has big, splashy, intimate plans for center’s first season in 2018-19

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    The $45 million Confluence Arts Center in downtown Eau Claire is expected to open later this year.

    Contributed image.

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From juggling in Monaco to underwater puppets in Argentina, the Confluence Arts Center’s artistic programming director has put on her share of  memorable shows. 

Brenna St. George Jones, formerly of New York City, joined the team in January to take over programming for Eau Claire’s highly anticipated arts center, scheduled to open this fall. 

And St. George Jones already has a plan. 

“I want to have a first season that is both intriguing and exciting for people, but also feels familiar and like a place they would be comfortable,” she said. “Like inviting somebody over to your house, but serving something interesting for the second course — they’re comfortable coming but also challenged.” 

Because contracts haven’t been signed, St. George Jones can’t yet go into detail about the 2018-19 season, but she’s already got a few things in the works.

She’s hoping to include a variety of events and genres. She said she has a lot of music acts of various genres lined up, some “really wonderful dance, fingers crossed, some big splashy things, and then some smaller, intimate and fun things.” 

So far the challenge has been  getting acts to book so late in the game. Though the arts center isn’t yet open, she said it’s still last minute when it comes to planning.

“The opening is very close,” St. George Jones said. “In the world of theater, September is basically the week after tomorrow.” 

She’s familiar with that world. St. George Jones graduated with a theater degree from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 1994. She did an internship at Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis after graduating before finding careers in stage and production management as well as producing.

Yo-Yo Ma

One of those highlights was working as the company manager for Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, a musical collective that uses music to create cultural collaboration.

“Those years (with Yo-Yo Ma) really helped solidify for me this idea of art and cross pollination with community and academics could really do some good in the world,” St. George Jones said. 

It was those experiences that stood out to the director of artistic programming search committee, said Arthur Grothe, a UW-Eau Claire theater professor and Confluence Council board member.

“We were really looking for somebody with a creative vision for the space, and her experience with Columbia University was similar to the Confluence in that it had a number of different spaces,” Grothe said. “One of the other things that is really valuable is her desire to make the space accessible to all constituents so that it doesn’t become a niche venue but rather a hub of artistic exploration.” 

St. George Jones knows how iconic The State Theatre, which will close before the arts center opens, was to Eau Claire. She’s hoping to build the Confluence Arts Center off the foundation from the State into something much more accessible. 

With the size difference alone, she expects the number of events held at the Confluence Arts Center will be greater than what was possible at the State, “both in terms of schedule and scope.”

Because of the multiple studio spaces and rehearsal rooms, she doesn’t anticipate sharing the space with groups such as Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild and Eau Claire Children’s Theater will be a problem.  She said they have all been offered the same access and number of days they had at the State. 

“The State was such a wonderful centerpiece for downtown, and I’m hoping the Confluence can continue that tradition,” she said. “This facility will have capacity to do things the State just couldn’t do.” 

‘The best fit’

Grothe said the selection committee looked at around 50 candidates for the position,  all of whom had a wide range of experiences to offer. He considered St. George Jones “the best fit out of several really great fits.” 

Through a phone and on-site interview, Grothe said it was clear she knew what she was looking at. 

“I’m excited about what she brings to the project and the ideas she’s helping to generate,” he said. “I think people will find her extremely approachable in addition to being dedicated and hardworking.” 

He also thinks her outside perspective will be a welcome addition to a team of local residents who have been 100 percent focused on the project. 

“It’s easy for anybody who is knee deep in making it all happen to get very rooted in patterns and ideas,” Grothe said. “Having a fresh set of eyes to come look at things has many benefits.” 

So what draws someone with such extensive experience to Eau Claire? St. George Jones has family in Plum City and lived in Duluth, Minn., for a while when she was younger.

But what really drew her to the job was the arts center itself. 

“The facility is gorgeous, and I love the backstory of the community coming together,” she said. “There’s so much on the line because this place and what it does matters to so many people in a way that a hall in a city (New York) of 8 million people just doesn’t.” 

Contact: 715-833-9214, katy.macek@ecpc.com, @KatherineMacek on Twitter


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