Brian McCurdy is widely known and respected in the performing arts field through his development of new performing arts centers, and management of arts/entertainment facilities. He has an extensive resume that includes Executive or Managing Director positions with Opera Hamilton, Hamilton Ontario and The Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York, Purchase, New York; while he’s also served on grant panels and as a board member with various organzations. Brian is currently Cultural Director for the City of Kingston, where he oversees the Grand Theatre, two municipal museums, as well as cultural policy development.
1. Tell us about yourself, your background with respect to performing arts and how you came to be involved in the The Grand Theatre and cultural policy development in Kingston.
I have a Master’s degree in Music performance and arts management from Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois. As part of my work study program I worked in the performing arts center at Northwestern and got my first taste of running a performing arts centre. I have been involved in the building and opening of performing arts centres including the Performing Arts Centre, University of Lethbridge in Alberta, the Community Auditorium in Thunder Bay Ontario, the Mondavi Center in Davis. California and the Gallo Center in Modesto, California. I applied for the position in Kingston and moved here in February 2008.
2. As the Cultural Director for the City of Kingston, what does your job entail? Since assuming the position, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced and successes you’ve helped realize?
The position of Cultural Director evolved from the Grand Theatre’s Director’s position. My first big challenge was re-opening the Grand Theatre. I started work in February of 2008 and opened the Grand in May. I had to hire a staff and get the building ready in 3 months. I also had to put together the first Grand Theatre Presents Series by June of that year, and market all the events. I am proud of the outstanding staff I have hired and how many excellent programs are presented at the Grand.
As Cultural Director I also have oversight of the MacLachlan Woodworking Museum and the Pumphouse Steam Museum. Another big challenge was the development of the City of Kingston Culture Plan to set the direction for arts & heritage for the next 10 years.
3. Since re-opening the newly renovated Grand Theatre, what are some of the most significant programming changes that have been implemented over the past few years? What direction do you see the Grand’s programming headed in the next decade?
I guess the most significant programming initiative was the development of the “Grand Theatre Presents Series.”
We currently program close to 50 different acts per year with over 70 performances. The Grand has approximately 300 days of use between the Rosen Auditorium and the Baby Grand. That includes commercial show rentals, community rentals and rehearsal days. We try and balance our programming with shows that would have a broad community interest as well as performances and performers that may be unknown to the community, but are important for the community to experience.
4. Regarding the City of Kingston’s Culture Plan, how does the Grand Theatre contribute to Kingston’s cultural vitality, and benefit local audiences, youths, performers and arts organizations?
The Grand Theatre performances are attended by approximately 65,000 Kingstonians per year. We bring some performances that may only be available in Toronto, Ottawa & Montreal. We are also home to many community groups including the Kingston Symphony, the Kinsmen’s annual musical, theatre companies like Dramatic Impact, Theatre Kingston, Blue Canoe etc giving a world class stage to local performers and audiences. We also have a significant arts opportunities for students where we offer school matinee performances, masterclasses with many of our performers, as well as opportunities to interact with the artists.
5. Now that the 2012-2013 Season at the Grand Theatre has been announced, can you comment on the challenges involved in the selection process? What factored into solidifying a lineup, which includes the likes of Randy Bachman, Boys II Men and Brent Butt?
A key part of solidifying the lineup in coordinating with other facilities in Ontario & Quebec to be able to offer a number of dates in close geographic proximity that would make for a logical tour. Obviously this puts us in a better negotiating position that then makes the tours financially viable for us.
6. Within the 2012-2013 Season brochure, you state that “our geographical location is our biggest asset”. Could you expand on this? Further, during your tenure have witnessed any instances where our geographical location, or perhaps our size, may have hindered the attraction of performers?
Our location, half way between Toronto & Montreal, and Ottawa and Syracuse makes Kingston a great fill in date between longer runs in those communities. This allows us to attract some performers that we would never otherwise be able to afford. Also, many facilities in Toronto & Montreal have a 100 mile exclusivity clause which we fall outside of making it possible for us to contract higher profile artists.
The size of the Grand Theatre as well as our population base limits the artists that we are able to attract simply because of the financial realities.