BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) -- The new Charleston Gaillard Center has its first executive director.
The performance and exhibition hall, now under construction and scheduled to open in a little more than a year, will be managed by Tom Tomlinson, who has overseen several arts center start-ups and run a number of organizations over a management career spanning 30 years.
Tomlinson most recently was director of the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center in Bowling Green, which shares a similar organizational structure with the Gaillard Center.
He also has held leadership positions at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, Orange County Performing Arts Center, the Performing Arts Center of Greater Miami (now called the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts) and the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta.
He was recruited through a nationwide search and received unanimous approval by the 17-member Gaillard Management Corporation board, which includes Mayor Joe Riley and is chaired by Luther Cochrane. Riley said Tomlinson was "the clear choice."
"Beyond his experience, contacts and knowledge in operating world-class facilities like the new Gaillard Center, the people of Charleston and our region will find him extremely likeable, enthusiastic and collaborative," Riley said in a statement.
Tomlinson said Charleston will be the ninth city he's lived in, and that his mobility is related to his work opening new arts centers. The Holy City is a dynamic community with opportunities to forge creative collaborations and engage residents, he said.
Opening a new arts center is fun, he said, but his real interest is how it can improve the lives of local people.
"I consider these buildings facilitators," he said. "My passion is not about the building, it's about the connections."
Part of that passion includes a commitment to education, he said.
"I really believe the arts have a signature role in education," Tomlinson said.
In Bowling Green, he created a teacher training program that paired educators with artists. He said the goal was to integrate the arts into the classroom on a daily basis, not just occasionally, and not only in the band or choir room. A partnership between a visual artist and geometry teacher, for example, can go a long way in helping students understand how perspective works.
"We all know that kids exposed to the arts grow up to be artists or arts supporters," he said.
Tomlinson earned a degree in technical theater and worked as an actor and director in his younger years, he said.
He visited Charleston and attended the Spoleto Festival when festival founder Gian Carlo Menotti was still alive. Tomlinson said he was impressed by the city's cultural institutions and activities.
Hundreds applied for the executive director position and seven were interviewed, Cochrane said.
"This is an arts community that needs collaboration and someone to set a tone," he said.
Renee Anderson, a member of the management corporation board, said Tomlinson is sure to maximize use of the exhibition hall, in part by inviting local groups to use it and by linking what happens in that space to what happens in the concert hall.
"That sensitivity to community is exactly why Tom is here," she said.
First on his agenda is staffing up, Tomlinson said.
The organization needs a box office manager, education director, development director, facilities manager and others. The $142 million center is scheduled to open on April 17, 2015.