Jill Barnes, the new executive director of The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, is just beginning to get to know her community.
With her husband, Nathan, and their three children, Barnes moved to Olympia last month from Idaho Falls, Idaho, where she was executive director of the Idaho Falls Arts Council, a nonprofit organization running a theater and arts center.
Weve had so much fun, she said. Weve driven out to Ocean Shores. Our youngest child had never seen the ocean. ... We went to the Hands On Childrens Museum; they love it there. Weve enjoyed Thai food and Indian food. Weve enjoyed the farmers market. We picked strawberries at Spooner Farms.
We want to take it all in.
Barnes has lived in the world of the arts since her Wisconsin childhood: She grew up seeing art of all kinds and participating, too at John Michael Kohler Arts Center, a nonprofit art museum and performing arts center in Sheboygan.
Ive probably been preparing for this job my whole life, she said.
Barnes remembers seeing the masked theater troupe Mummenschanz, among many others, at the Kohler Arts Center. Looking back now, knowing that I saw this troupe as a child is pretty extraordinary, she said. Id never seen anything like that before.
She also participated in a summer theater program at the center and after earning a masters in arts administration at Boston University and working for a few years, she went to work at Kohler Arts Center as the performing arts coordinator.
It was pretty extraordinary, she said. I went back to do the programming at the arts center that had such a profound impact on my life. It has impacted the lives of so many people in that region.
She spoke in broad terms last week about her vision for the Washington Center, including its financial stability, strong partnerships with the 27 community arts groups that perform at the center, and varied programming long a focus at the center, where staff chose the 2013-14 season with help from a survey of patrons.
I cant just book a season of things I want to see, she said. Our role and our opportunity is to bring in a variety of genres. And within each genre, I really try to bring in the best quality.
Of this seasons lineup, Barnes is particularly excited about singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright Im kind of crazy excited about that and physical comedian Tomás Kubínek, whom she brought to the Kohler Arts Center.
He is hard to define, she said. Hes just enchanting. You fall in love with him within 5 minutes of watching him perform.
Kubíneks work is just one of many delights shes encountered in her nine years of programming for performing arts centers. I couldnt even count how many shows Ive contracted, she said. Hundreds of shows.
Barnes has a good reputation in the field, said Tom Iovanne, the Washington Centers former executive director. The center had been without a permanent director since Iovanne resigned in 2011.
I called a few contacts in Idaho and got some really good reports back, Iovanne said about Barnes last week. They said things like shes good at what she does, shes smart, she has good artistic sensibility.
Perhaps Barness greatest passion as the Washington Centers new director is to bring the people of South Sound the same deep connection with the arts that she herself has.
How can we make the experience more meaningful? she asked. How can we make it more than a lovely evening at the theater?
Her answer: Increase the interaction between visiting artists and the community.
We bring artists from around the world into the center, she said. Im looking forward to making more connections between the artists and the community. I want to get artists out into the schools or bring school groups in to interact with artists and learn about their culture.
A lot of our artistic partners do outreach into the community and into the schools already, she said. It makes a huge impact on the lives of kids who are watching or participating.
And arts education isnt just for children, she said. There are opportunities for adults as well. Maybe we have a talk back. Maybe something were doing is a really nice complement to something another arts organization is doing.