Jill Barnes said that she has been immersed in the arts since her childhood in Kohler, Wis. She credits her time in an arts center in a nearby town and an arts education that culminated in a master’s degree at Boston University for her love of the arts.
It took her to leadership positions in arts organizations in Salt Lake City, Sheboygan, Wis., and Idaho Falls, Idaho, where she heads the Idaho Falls Arts Council.
And it has now taken her to Olympia.
Barnes was named Wednesday as the new executive director for The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, the third person to hold the position since the center began in 1985.
Barnes, who said she’s in her mid-30s, will begin working full-time in June in the arts center at 512 Washington St., bringing a husband and three young children.
“We’ve always wanted to be in the Northwest and this opportunity presented itself and it seems like a really good match,” she said. “We’re really excited to be in Olympia.”
Barnes’ experience in Idaho is similar to what she will do in Olympia. She has been the executive director of the Idaho Falls Arts Council since 2007, where she has managed an operating budget of nearly $900,000, supervised five full-time and five part-time employees and more than 150 volunteers, according to her resume.
Her selection caps a nearly two-year long search for an executive director since Tom Iovanne quit the position in 2011.
“The Washington Center board took its time to find exactly the right person to lead an amazing staff and a magnificent theatre into a brand new era,” said George Le Masurier, the chairman of the center’s board, in a statement. Le Masurier is also publisher of The Olympian.
Barnes inherits a downtown institution that is about to experience a $4.6 million makeover. The Washington Center will get a new brick-and-stone exterior this year with a new marquee, a replacement for the leaky synthetic stucco-like exterior it now has.
Barnes said she is looking forward to continuing the mission of the Washington Center, which includes balancing a bill of large, touring shows with performances from a multitude of non-profit community arts organizations.
“I don’t want to be too specific because as far as artists are concerned … but I’m very much looking forward to continuing and expanding on the quality of artists and presenting a broad range of artists that are brought into the community,” she said. “Also, there are so many quality artist partners that do a lot of education in the community and I’m very much looking forward to working with them.”
Le Masurier said the search for a new director has gone on for so long because the center’s financial difficulties took precedence. Kevin Boyer spent more than a year as interim director, and had the inside track for the job, Le Masurier said. But Boyer left in August 2012.
The Washington Center’s board conducted a nationwide search, identifying five finalists in January. Two of them were brought to Olympia for interviews. The board’s pick was Barnes.
“We think that she’s at a stage in her career that fits very nicely with an extremely competent staff and brings a youthful energy and passion for the performing arts to the center,” Le Masurier said in an interview. “She has very good experience in fundraising and preparing seasons, but one of the main things we liked about her is ... just a very warm personality.”Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 firstname.lastname@example.org @MattBatcheldor