A Closer Look
Janesville Performing Arts Center
Celebrating 15 Years of Entertaining Productions!
Story and interviews by Teresa Nguyen
"Come to events, buy tickets, and come to experience this incredible facility with the most beautiful acoustics, right there in the middle of downtown Janesville!" ~ Laurel Canan
Like the intriguing melody of a song, the arts add soul to our lives. Like the powerful energy of a dancer, the arts add vibrancy to our being. Like blended colors in a painting, the arts add beauty to our days. Just as a story passed through the generations reveals our history, the arts add meaning and layers to our culture.
A performing arts center creates such an environment, a special place where talents are expressed and appreciated, and a place where folks can come sit awhile in an uplifting escape from the daily routines. It is a place of enchantment where we can both lose ourselves and discover ourselves in the voice of an actor, the movements of a dance, in humor and laughter, among the flowing notes of an orchestra, and in the rich and fascinating depths of a story brought to life on stage.
The masks of Comedy and Tragedy date back to Greek Mythology. At one point they were actually worn during plays to show emotion, or sometimes worn by men playing female roles. However, today they are a universal symbol of the arts. There is perspective in seeing dramatic tragedy unfold on a stage. It is a healthy reminder that the troubles in our own lives could certainly be worse. Dramatic comedy, in turn, is truly the best medicine, taking us away from our thoughts and stresses for a sweet duration.
How wonderful that in the heart of our community we have such a fabulous and beautiful center! Not only is it a source of quality entertainment, but it has recently become a center for educating our young people in areas of the arts. With quality instruction, The Janesville Performing Arts Center provides opportunities for children to thrive, to express and to develop skills beyond what they thought possible. JPAC is introducing the joys and value of theater to a whole new generation.
The following interviews of JPAC leaders, employees and volunteers take us behind the scenes of our very own performing arts center. These involved, arts advocates recall how it came to be and discuss JPAC’s evolution since 2004. They also share valuable advice on how we, as a continually changing society, can help sustain the life of this integral piece of our community’s culture.
“We have tried to give the community more of a voice. There are many projects that happen here that are done through leadership and execution of ideas from the community itself. The ‘Tales of…’ series, ‘Stories from Janesville’ series and ‘Summer Camp Musical’ are all examples of that.” ~ Nathan Burkart
The Early Years
I’m from Janesville Wisconsin. I grew up on the east side and attended Harrison Elementary. When I was 6 years old, I had a couple of great teachers at Harrison who noticed I was loud and liked talking in front of people. I participated in a forensic program, called Speak Out Students, and got started with Edie Baran at Spotlight on Kids. From that point on, I just loved getting up on stage and putting myself out there.
I attended Marshall Middle School and graduated from Craig High School. My goal was to be a working actor.
I went to Webster Conservatory in St. Louis where I got a BFA in Musical Theatre and graduated with Honors. After graduating, I moved out to Los Angeles and worked as an actor (with many survival jobs) for eight years. I started my own nonprofit theatre company out there that produced small theatre throughout the city.
I studied with numerous acting and professional development coaches during my time in Los Angeles, in Wisconsin and St. Louis, Missouri. My degree gave me an in-depth training in theatre and has allowed me to have an incredibly strong appreciation for the performing arts. My LA teachers focused heavily on “on-camera” and audition technique.
I lived in Los Angeles for eight years. I also worked professionally throughout the country on small theatrical projects, readings, commercials, etc. I collected a lot of great experiences, including working with three-time Pulitzer prize playwright Edward Albee on his reading of Me, Myself and I. I also got a chance to appear in Adam Sandler’s movie, Jack and Jill, which was a lot of fun!
After some time, I wanted to raise my kids back home and have them know their grandparents. I had a great relationship with my own grandparents and I wanted them to have that same experience. I no longer wanted to be a celebrity, but instead wanted to have an impact in the arts in a smaller community. Janesville is where I’m from, and so it seemed like the best opportunity available to me.
Evolution of JPAC
JPAC was built in 2004 after some amazing people started a massive fundraiser to repurpose the old Marshall Middle School. It was a great vision and the city had a large need. Many of the theatre groups performed out of miscellaneous buildings throughout the community and didn’t have a place to call home. PAC’s for cities Janesville’s size were becoming more common. Through a large fundraising campaign, they were able to make it happen.
The old Janesville High School, which later became Marshall Junior High and then the Marshall Apartments with the Janesville Performing Arts Center on the north end
In 2008, when GM closed, it was difficult for the entire city, including the arts. That change required JPAC to continue to evolve and find ways to bring in revenue besides rental income. When Executive Director Elizabeth Horvath came in, she introduced a lot of new programming options and Janesville Presents merged with the PAC. This rapidly expanded the center.
Today we offer Education/Outreach classes, concerts and theatrical events that we produce to help further our mission and vision. The business has tripled in size since it started in 2004! The programming has been very successful, as it has allowed us to build a new Education and Outreach Center and upgrade all our technology this past year.
We continue to support and partner with the local resident groups as well. That will always be a big part of what we do. We now have a more diversified revenue strategy that fits a larger operating budget.
Productions and Programming
We try to have a little bit of something for everybody. The resident groups provide the majority of the theatrical programming at the center.
We do, however, produce our own shows, concerts and special events. Over the last three years, we’ve emphasized smaller events that aren’t traditional “PAC events" such as Dueling Pianos, comedy shows and Improv. This helped us reach a brand-new base of patrons.
We have also given the community more of a voice. There are many projects that happen here through leadership and execution of ideas from the community itself. The Tales of… Series, Stories from Janesville Series and Summer Camp Musical are all examples of that.
Behind the Scenes
I’d say 75% of what makes JPAC go happens during the week. We are always working on new ideas, reviewing the budget and coming up with new operational strategies that will make us more connected with the community.
Fundraising takes up a lot of time. As a non-profit not subsidized by the city, we are required to get a lot of financial backing to help keep the place running.
For large events, like the Spring Gala, we start working months out to make sure we have the right artist selected, sponsors, auction items etc. Additionally, I meet regularly with business leaders and resident groups to try and do what I can to make this place feel like home.
Coming in January, 2020
I’ve been very lucky to have had little to no turnover with my staff.
Mike Stalsberg, our Technical Director, has been at the Center since we started 15 years ago. He designed the new system we have in the theatre and is an incredible community arts leader.
Kari Dray, our Marketing Director, has worked with many groups over the years and has extensive experience working with radio. She also choreographs shows at Beloit Memorial.
Jim McCulloch, our Education and Outreach Director, has a great theatre education and production background from Whitewater.
Nicky Schwartz, our Box Office Coordinator, is probably the nicest person you’ve ever met.
I will always enjoy the kids shows the most because it is really what we are all about. Seeing a child up on stage for the first time and falling in love with it cannot be replaced by anything.
Challenges and Rewards
Honestly, the most challenging part is trying to figure out how to manage being a dad and husband with my job. It is very easy to just immerse yourself in what you are doing and forget about your friends and social life. I’m at my best when I’m keeping my friends and family at the front of what I do.
The rewards for me are seeing tons of happy people who are moved by art and theatre. The primary reward for me has also been having a career in the arts that can help me support my family. Those aren’t easy to find.
I have a lovely wife, Megan, who is a Speech and Language Pathologist at Parker High School. We have a little boy, Holden, who turned three in October, and a daughter, Lottie, who is one.
Mom and Dad still live in Janesville. I have a twin brother, Alex, who teaches theatre in Colorado and a brother, Tyler, who is the Assistant Village Manager of Shorewood, Wisconsin.
Nathan, Megan and their little ones.
Photo by EmyD Photography
Make sure you go to a show. This is the number one way to support us. I always say - you want to be the parent that helps support your kid in youth baseball, but you have to attend the games, too. When people come and have a great time, it breeds this incredible energy that just grows and grows.
Our role today is to be a vehicle for creativity both inside and outside our building. We see a need to go into schools and introduce the arts to people who never would have tried it. We also see our role in providing inclusive and accessible entertainment for the entire region.
The Downtown is thriving again and has grown so much since I left in 2004. People are actually getting things done and doing what they can to make Janesville even more special.
The band Zyanya performing for the Latino Heritage event at JPAC
In keeping an open mind, I see us working with more outside groups to bring in more great programs. We hosted the Latino Heritage event in November and my hope is to start working on an outdoor Shakespeare event, and bringing in another large artist within the next few years.
I plan to stick around as long as I feel challenged and artistically fulfilled. I do not see my job as a “stepping stone”. This is a place I care about. And as long as I think I can help the community, meet my family and life goals, and keep JPAC in a good financial and artistic place, I see no reason for taking off.
"There is a lot more programming than ever before. There’s something for everybody at JPAC." ~ Mike Stalsberg
Early Days at JPAC
I have been with JPAC since 2004, started here during the construction of JPAC. My primary responsibilities are sound and lights and technical support for all of the shows we have here. I also facilitate for resident group rehearsals and work with resident groups on their shows. I’m kind of the show guy and run things behind the scenes.
When it first started, there was just Laurel Canan and I working here. Laurel did all the front house and office things and I covered all the productions. We had a big volunteer army back then.
On the side, I am the Vice President and Producer for the Stage One theater group. Stage One is an old company, originally started in 1980. Kirk Denmark was involved. The University of Wisconsin - Rock County’s theater was named after him. Gary Lenox was involved, and the U-Rock library was named after him! Theater director and Stage One President, Pat Thom, was also one of the founding members. They produced theater until around 1993.
There wasn’t a big support group in place, so things kind of slowed down a bit and they closed down for a while. It was around October of 2011 that we started it up again and had our first show, Rabbit Hole. We’ve been doing two to four shows a season. This year’s season runs from September through April.
Lately it’s been pretty crazy busy with Stage One. We also produce WCLO radio shows, we did a Halloween Edgar Allan Poe radio show, Once Upon a Midnight Dreary, and we’ll be doing another Christmas show, Shop Around the Corner, on December 19th. The movie, You’ve Got Mail, was based on this story. It has inspired several other productions.
When I have to both direct and run sound and lights it gets a little crazy. I’ll be co-directing It’s a Wonderful Life with Chris Ogden. The show opened the first weekend of December to coincide with the Janesville Jolly Jingle events. It will come back on the 20th - 22nd of December.
We’ll do some school shows, a matinee for the area students to see. It’s cute, we’ve done this show before and there’s one kissing scene where the kids go, “oooh”. The pure reaction of kids is really cool. It’s fun to expose them to theater and you get these kinds of reactions.
Changes Over the Years
There have been absolutely drastic changes over the years. These days we have a decent sized staff. The place keeps growing and growing, which is great! There’s something happening here almost every night. We were just having a discussion about managing all these spaces so that we don’t ever overbook.
I casually call our new Education and Outreach Center “The Pool”. It’s a great new space, which covered up the old Marshall Junior High School pool. The original tiles were left there for people to remember the pool. There are a lot of inquiries about renting this space. It’s exciting.
The children’s choir is also very big this year, that’s under the direction of Vickie Neitzel. It’s great we’re making full use of these new spaces.
The biggest change for my job has been the equipment. When I first started, we had to rent a lot of the equipment we used, especially for the galas and the Live on Main shows. If it was just a piano and an acoustic guitar, we could do those, no problem. But, if we had a rock show, we had to rent speakers, mixers and all kinds of stuff.
From all of that experience, I had a really good handle on what the facility needed. Thankfully, JPAC let me design the new systems, which is very cool.
The old Marshall Junior High pool, now the new Education and Outreach Center. Visit the Hendricks Family Foundation
I think a lot of times the easy thing to do is to bring in an audio/lighting contractor. We tell them what we want and they execute it out. They need to get paid, too, of course. So, in doing it all in house, we ended up getting a lot of the gear we wanted, instead of spending it on something else. So far, things have been working out.
Another bonus to installing your own speakers with Westphal, of course, is knowing how all the gear goes together. That knowledge is SO valuable when something goes wrong! You know exactly what pieces you have to break down and troubleshoot. I’m still learning about our new lighting and all the things we can do with them.
We’re probably the most high-tech venue in the area. We’re a very well-rounded facility with moving LED lights and a new console. It’s all very exciting!
The types of shows have definitely changed over the years.
Mike and the newly installed technical equipment
As far as a favorite goes, Tony Bennet was so impressive! Hands down. I got goosebumps when he came out. I used to work lots of shows with famous artists like Taylor Swift and Sugerland…but Tony Bennet gave me the chills. Laurel Canon and I got to ride in the elevator with him. He’s a cool dude.
I really like running sound. Contributing to impressing and entertaining people is a joy. I still love my primary responsibilities here. The variety of shows never gets stale.
Hopes for the Future
I hope we continue at this pace. Expanding is a necessity, but taking your time with it is also a key component to success. We don’t want to get too big too fast. There will be a point where we’ll be at a plateau, but we’re not there yet. We want to remain sustainable. If we continue to grow, that’s great, as long as we can sustain that. Janesville is really supporting the arts!
Try to keep coming to shows as much as you can. If it comes down to seeing a movie or a show at JPAC…choose us! It’s not all your stereotypical theater. There is a variety here, something for everyone. It’s cliché to say, but it’s absolutely true!
Personally, I plan to stay as long as I can.
Education and Outreach Director
"We’re seeing a lot of different families with the classes we’re teaching. It’s bringing in a whole new aspect of this center and revitalizing things. There’s definite life in the center now." ~ Jim McCulloch
I’ve been with JPAC for four years now. I was born and raised in Rock County. I grew up on a dairy farm near Whitewater. I got my “big break” in second grade playing Santa Clause and was bit by the bug!
I studied at UW Whitewater and met my wife. We started our own theater company out of college doing murder mysteries and children’s theater called Royal Oak Productions.
We worked at a place called the Latimer House in Delavan, Wisconsin, putting on productions for about 10 years. Then the economy tanked. I got the job here and have been here ever since! I also teach and direct the drama program up at the Whitewater High School, putting on 3 shows a year for them. That’s the gig life!
My role at JPAC is to work with the youth programming, so I do a lot with the schools, teaching elementary through high school. I also direct several shows a year and go to the schools to do workshops. My outreach involves different partners such as the historical society, the library and other groups throughout the community.
We have the Mainstage Review, which has taken the place of a traditional choir. It’s a mini musical where children get the chance to sing, act and dance with some costumes and scenery, but not the full-blown production elements It is certainly enough to get them interested in theater.
Music Director, Vickie Neitzel works with JPAC Students
Then we have two acting classes that I teach, one for 3rd - 6th grades, and one for middle and high school students. It teaches the basic elements of acting like stage presence, analysis of scripts and then they do little skits with their new skills. They perform those along with their Music and Drama Festival.
The newest class is directed by Ron Brown, who is heading up a Youth Improv Troop for middle/high school level kids. It’s really great!
The sheer growth in size and serving different demographics who have not been in before is really amazing. We’re seeing a lot of different families with the classes we’re teaching. It’s bringing in a whole new aspect of this center and revitalizing things. There’s definite life in the center now.
I’m particularly partial to the summer programs. Aladdin was a favorite and I was really fond of Alice and Wonderland, which we did this past year. Most recently, I did Tales of Edgar Allan Poe with the TAGOS Leadership Academy students. By far now that’s probably one of my favorites!
I enjoy working with the people. I like people. And I enjoy working with the kids, getting out in the community and networking with different partners.
I hope we continue growing and that we are able to sustain a professional, fully operational theater here. We’re right between the three metropolitan areas of Madison, Milwaukee and Chicago. Janesville is a great hub for the arts in general, and youth theater in particular.
We had our Music and Drama at the end of November and then we had our Mainstage Review of Surfin’ Santa: A Holiday Musical. That’s 40 kids who performed a mini-musical under the direction of Vickie Neitzel. Then comes Local Talent Month in January of 2020.
Board of Directors
"Attendance has grown and the addition of our outreach programs has been very gratifying." ~ Mike Casey
It all started with informational meetings to spread the news of progress on the planning. We also wanted to gather input from user groups.
As then president of Janesville Little Theater, I was asked to join the Board of Directors. The board was made up of mostly business and community leaders, but not many with much theater experience. My role was to bring the user perspective to the discussions and in pre-planning the design.
Once the fund raising was under way, I contributed to the review of the design proposals and meetings with the architectural companies. I was on the construction committee and met with contractors throughout construction. My contributions included dressing room design, seating and line-of-sight tier sizes in the balcony.
Since then, I have continued serving on the Board of Directors.
Why Theater and the Arts?
I have always loved good music and comedy. I starting acting in high school and continued in college.
Early construction on the new Performing Arts Center
I did shows with community theater groups in Sussex, Waukesha, Elm Grove, Green Bay and Janesville. Performing is so much fun, not just the performances but the weeks of rehearsal, building friendships and learning more about theater all the while.
My wife, Wendy, had done some performing in high school and college when we met. It is easier to have a hobby when both in the couple share it. She has gone on to sing choral music with Choral Union as well as acting in musicals with Theatre Unlimited, Inc. where we have appeared in several shows together.
We have shared our love of the arts with our children. Two are dance instructors, one is an artist, and one married a girl with a musical theater background. They met in the marching band in college. They have both since gone on to do musical theater and plays.
So, theater and the arts are firmly entrenched in our family. We also enjoy a wide range of music styles and attend music performances together.
Changes Through the Years
Attendance has grown and the addition of our outreach programs has been very gratifying. The new room over the old swimming pool is, hopefully, only the first of the next few expansions and better space utilization. The technology improvements for lights and sound have added so much to our patrons’ experience.
Goals for JPAC
Some of the goals are to keep JPAC strong and growing in both programing and finances. I’d like to see our calendar become busier, with community support through ticket sales and attendance to justify it.
The community needs to contribute through attendance and supporting the arts financially when asked.
The shows that stand out do so for various reasons. Jekyll and Hyde was my first musical in 25 years and taught me so much. It made me a better singer and introduced me to a lot of very talented people. Other musicals, such as Lil’ Abner, Guys and Dolls, South Pacific, Fiddler on the Roof and The Producers were fun to do and very gratifying to me as an actor.
I have appeared in Harvey four times - three times as Elwood P. Dowd, in three different decades. I’d like to think I improved as an actor every time!
A lot of shows are fond memories because I got to work with great directors like Chuck Niles, Elsie Van Tassel and Jim Tropp. I also got to appear on stage with several professional actors, all of whom made my experience more rewarding.
Scott Vechinsky follows his father Dennis' footsteps playing the role of Tevye
JPAC serves as an arts and entertainment destination for the Janesville area and greater Rock County. We try to offer a diverse mix of events and try to appeal to a broad range of audiences including all ages. We provide a setting for meetings and ceremonies such as an Arise Now public update and the TAGOS Leadership Academy graduation.
I hope to continue serving on the JPAC Board of Directors and to volunteer, as possible, to support JPAC and its user groups.
First Box Office Volunteer
"It’s continued to grow and try to be responsive to the community. I think Nathan Burkart has been really good for the place." ~ Peggy Vechinsky
JPAC's Early Stages
In the fundraising stage, they had an office downtown and Laurel Canon was the only employee. I answered phones and did computer work, putting info in data bases and whatever was needed. I was the original volunteer.
Jane Blain Gilbertson, who was co-chair of the group that got it off the ground, frequently came into the office to plan with Laurel.
Jane was very instrumental in its success.
When the building was ready, we moved the offices down to JPAC and I was the box office volunteer.
It was fun, but it was also kind of scary because it was so new. Every day we were learning on the fly. At that point I was still the only volunteer. There was no such thing as online ticket sales. So, it was either in person or by phone. The phone lines were really busy! We were building it as we went.
It was supported by the community and we had a lot of ticket sales. There were a lot of local groups performing there, so they already had their own following and audiences.
Mick and Jane Gilbertson with Oakleigh Ryan
The organizations, as well as the customers, were thrilled with the facility. The groups were used to performing in church halls and such, so they were happy to have a REAL theater, as were the patrons.
Changes Through the Years
Oh Lord! It’s continued to grow and try to be responsive to the community. I think Nathan Burkart has been really good for the place. He’s young and has a strong background in theater. I think he’s really done a lot to grow the children’s programs. Jim McCulloch is really great. I’m pleased with what he’s doing.
To have the ideas, and for the board to go along with Nathan’s ideas, is important. The board has always looked for ways to improve the operations.
Peggy, the first box office volunteer, answering calls at JPAC
I feel that the arts community is very supportive, but there are some in the community who haven’t even been there once! I hear complaints of what is offered there. But, staying away and not getting involved isn’t helpful. They need to let the board know what their interests are.
My very favorite show was the Tony Bennet performance. I was a huge fan. I had gone to high school there and sang in the choir, so to have Tony Bennet there singing on my high school stage was a thrill! It was a fantastic show. That was our first professional show. And such a performer! He was so well known. It was absolutely beyond my wildest dreams!
Another really good show was Donny Osmund. Then, of course, the local groups had spectacular shows and Fiddler on the Roof was one of my very favorites.
Hope for JPAC
I would like to see more area talents, to see us bring in some Madison shows, even jazz bands. There are groups that the younger generations like, reasonably priced shows and bands from surrounding areas.
For those who have not attended shows at JPAC, make your interests known.
Carney Thorpe, LLC.
JPAC Board Ex-Officio
Janesville Performing Arts Center
Written by James Thorpe
"JPAC continues to grow and redefine its goals, which substantially benefits the entire community." ~ James Thorpe
The Seed Planted
The former Janesville High School and subsequently Marshall Junior High School building was no longer used by the Janesville School District, and the District decided to try to sell the building rather than tear it down. Three or four serious buyers were attempting to purchase the building, one being Stone House, owned by Helen Bradbury of Madison.
At the School Board meeting, set to decide which bidder would be the buyer, Helen’s representatives stated in addition to renovating the building for apartments, they would make the Theater and Music Wing addition available to an appropriate non-profit organization to develop a community theater. The School Board was impressed with the idea and decided to sell the building to Stone House.
After a couple starts over three years, Janesville Performing Arts Center (JPAC) was organized and a plan was developed for the project. In the very early days of JPAC, Katheryn Hagen, who had been Executive Director of the Janesville Concert Association, worked with JPAC in its development.
Work begins on the parking lot between JPAC and Hedberg Library
Katheryn's involvement was very, very important in getting JPAC going, along with the initial directors. Her contributions cannot be overrated. She now lives in Hudson, Wisconsin, having moved there many years ago with her husband, John, who for several years had been a minister in Janesville. There was also a plan to raise the funds necessary to build the project. With initial, substantial contributions from Jane Blain Gilbertson and Dr. Harvey Turner, and support from all over the community, over four million dollars were raised to build the project.
J.P. Cullen & Sons, which had constructed the original building, was chosen to construct the JPAC project. The project was complicated in many instances by the very substantial nature of the building, but it was finally built.
(Above) The main staircase leading up to the hallway to the main theater.
(Top right) Ron Sutterlin of Sutterlin Restorations talks to visitors about restoring the auditorium's beautiful plasterwork (Lower right) The stage was extended in the new Performing Arts Center auditorium.
Initially, most all shows were presented by local non-profit theater groups, and Janesville Concert Association, which became Janesville Presents, and finally merged into JPAC. Other theater and music groups such as Janesville Little Theater, Theatre Unlimited, Inc., Badger Chordhawks Chorus and others were some of the primary presenters and many still continue.
Later, to help meet the need for programs, Virginia Mills, Sue Conley and I put together Bower City Theater and presented a number of well-known musicals such as Jesus Christ Super Star, Annie, Rent, White Christmas, The Sound of Music, The Producers and Jekyll and Hyde which were directed by Jim Tropp.
JPAC’s Evolution and Future
The initial concept of JPAC was to be a venue for community groups who sold their own tickets. No actual ticket office was designed in the original plan for JPAC.
In recent years JPAC has become a primary presenter of many different programs. Over the years Janesville Art League developed an art gallery.
Many youth educational programs are ongoing. The facility has recently expanded into other parts of the building. Original equipment is being replaced with new modern lighting and sound equipment.
In short, JPAC continues to grow and redefine its goals, which substantially benefits the entire community. All of this continues to be developed by excellent management supported by a forward-thinking Board of Directors.
The current Executive Director, Nathan Burkart, has been a blessing to the organization. He has developed a good team and is doing a super job!
Hopefully JPAC will continue to have an excellent Board, which has allowed JPAC to evolve as it has.
Such a vibrant organization is extremely important to the entire Janesville community.
The JPAC Team: Nathan, Mike, Jim and Kari
First JPAC Executive Director
Artist Manager - Siegel Artist Management
"The arts give children an opportunity to shine, to be on stage or to experience the feeling of being in the audience, to be a part of something greater than themselves." ~ Laurel Canan
Why Theater and The Arts?
I always loved the performing arts and attending performances. I was never in music or drama during school. I was a swimmer. We were made to choose athletics or music, but not both. I stayed a swimmer. I’m actually a double-degreed Paralegal (Associate and Bachelor of Science) and hold a Masters Public Administration Degree. It was my intention to work on policy in Washington DC.
While working on my Masters, I had to do an internship. My grad advisor suggested an internship in grant writing, combining my love of research and writing. I had the opportunity to work at a community-based arts council with the executive director.
After the internship and my degree completion, I stayed on staff and ran the Visual Arts Gallery. I never looked back after my taste of arts administration!
The Beginnings of JPAC
My Involvement with the arts in Janesville began in 1999, when I became the director of the Janesville Concert Association (Janesville Presents). I was part of the initial planning for JPAC because the Concert Association had signed on to be a user group of the venue.
In 2003, I was hired as the Campaign Administrator for the fundraising arm of the JPAC project. In 2004, I was happy to accept the position of Executive Director. I wore many hats!
An early float promoting the new Performing Arts Center
At the time I was hired, the staff consisted of me and our part-time Tech Director, Mike Stalsberg. We had a wonderful core group of volunteers who ran the JPAC Box Office and house management /usher teams.
It was another year before we finally hired a part-time Box Office Manager.
I was responsible for annual fundraising campaigns and events, grant writing and fundraising, building management, marketing and programming for the Center. I also worked with Janesville Presents to program their performing arts series.
Another responsibility I had was for the day-to-day operations of the Center, working with 13 local groups that used the Center.
JPAC’s Early Days
I was part of the early planning stages of the JPAC project. We hit start and stop many times. The smartest decision the board made was not to start any part of the project until all the money was raised in cash and pledges. Seven years later, JPAC opened.
An anonymous donor came forward in April, 2003 offering a one-million-dollar gift but the gift had to be matched dollar for dollar by the City of Janesville. In June, 2003 the Janesville City Council approved the one-million-dollar gift to the City. Part of the City’s gift was the parking lot between JPAC and Hedberg Public Library.
Without the gift and match, the JPAC project would have been indefinitely put on hold.
I worked with Arts Wisconsin, Forward Janesville and Americans for the Arts to jumpstart an economic impact study documenting the amount of money the arts generated in Rock County to make the case for JPAC. This study was instrumental in making the case for the economic value of the arts in a community.
Construction was started in November, 2003. The first two phases of the project were finished in September, 2004. There was no more money to do any of the other phases.
There have been so, so many memorable programs. These are but a few of my favorites:
A photo hanging in James Thorpe's law firm - JPAC during the remodeling.. The photo is signed by Tony Bennet, JPAC's first big performer.
The opening concert on September 11, 2004 with Tony Bennett, an American icon.
Donny Osmond and the Beloit-Janesville Symphony Orchestra
James Sewell Ballet Company - A show that incorporated American Sign Language in the dance movements.
The Children’s Theatre performances - always my favorite! We gave many children in the community their first live theatre experience.
Janesville In Stages - a show written by Jim Lyke and performed on September 10, 2004 as JPAC’s opening, local program. A celebration of Janesville history. Over 100 people participated.
Classical violin, solo piano (George Winston) or vocal performances that highlighted the spectacular acoustics.
The Messiah sung by Choral Union.
Theatre Unlimited’s production of Jesus Christ, Superstar.
JPAC’s 15th Anniversary
Where did the time go? Thousands and thousands of people have walked through the doors to share an arts experience or event. For me, the benchmarks go back further than 15 years. I’d like to share a story that has resonated with me, creating a moment I’ll never forget:
There were many in Janesville that didn’t think we needed a performing arts center. We often heard the argument that the high school auditoriums were just fine. When the anonymous donor came forward and challenged the city to the million-dollar match there were some very vocal people against the city gift.
Letters to the Editor were written, public statements at City Council meetings were given, voicing very strong opposition. The lobbying was hard against the project. I had several conversations with one particular individual, listening but also trying to advocate on behalf of the center and all the good it would do for the community. Lo and behold, this individual came to Janesville In Stages.
I walked over and extended a thank you for attending and asked about the experience in the theatre. The individual smiled, looked at me, extended a hand for a handshake and said, “Now I get it, Laurel. I understand why all of you fought so hard to make this a reality.”
This is the power of the arts in a community and puts all the very, very hard work into perspective.
Keeping the Arts Alive
I think the arts are the soul of a community. They are a way for the community to collectively come together and to experience something in the moment. It doesn’t matter who is in the audience, where they live or what school they go to…everyone is there to share in the moment. The arts give children an opportunity to shine, to be on stage or to experience the feeling of being in the audience, to be a part of something greater than themselves.
Get involved. Come to a show. Volunteer. In my work as an artist manager, we are first-hand witnesses to disturbing trends in the arts. It’s getting harder and harder for some communities to keep the arts alive.
Theatres have closed, performing arts series have ceased. Budget cuts have severely impacted programming by cutting the number of programs presented. Concert Associations have ceased operations.
Never, ever take it for granted that JPAC will always be alive and well in downtown Janesville.
I would advise the community to continue supporting the center. It doesn’t matter how much you give monetarily. There is a multitude of ways to experience the arts right here in your backyard. Come to events, buy tickets, and come to experience this incredible facility with the most beautiful acoustics, right there in the middle of downtown Janesville!