Arts Watch: Gateway Regional Arts Center’s new executive director is reaching out

Published 3:00 pm Saturday, August 20, 2022

By Bill McCann, Columnist

Jordon Campbell is back in Mt. Sterling to stay. The new executive director of the Gateway Regional Arts Center (GRAC) spent several years performing in movies, on television, and on stage in New York before heading to Washington, D.C., to be a White House intern. As a member of the Obama White House, he worked on arts and education policy.

Then he began traveling the world to study and teach in Ghana, China, India, and most of the United States. Then back to acting in national and international touring companies, including swing duties (understudying multiple roles) for the male roles in The Wizard of Oz in Saudi Arabia.

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Recently, he’s slowed down. He’s now home in Montgomery County and making himself at home in the GRAC’s yellow former church and regional arts center on Main Street in downtown Mt. Sterling. There the interests of the Center focus on film, literature, music, and visual and performing arts. Art exhibits feature prominently in the GRACs programming. And they also produce a literary magazine—The Uncommon Grackle—and host regular open mic nights for poets and writers.

In the summer of 2021, Campbell came home and started a summer theatre that performed the Wizard of Oz at Rosewood Acres Farm under the stars, to great acclaim. As he had previously done with local theatres wondering what to do on a weekend in Mt. Sterling, Campbell wants to charge up and change up the GRAC. More specifically, Campbell wants to “expand what we do, to reach out to those who have previously been unreachable.” He wants to take the GRAC “into the community” by working with or “deepening relations” with school districts, Shepherd’s Shelter, Pathways, and Gateway Children’s Services, among others.

“Up to now,” Campbell says, “the focus has been on Mt. Sterling. But we are GRAC—not GAC. The ‘R’ is very important. We’re a regional arts center. I think our first priority area has to be Montgomery County. But our secondary priority needs to be our surrounding counties.” We need to reach out. “Of course, that includes Clark County. I know that Clark County is very arts-rich; I’ve had some great conversations with some Leeds folks; they’re great to work with, and they want to partner and have conversations about how we can work together.”

“But those counties around us that don’t have an arts center, that don’t have a central meeting place for culture; I’m talking about Bath County, Menifee County, Powell County, even toward Wolfe and Morgan County. Those places have great artists, wonderful skilled craftsmen and women, and visual artists and performing artists, and they don’t have a home, necessarily. An artistic home. So we really want to be that place where people from all over this region—the Gateway Region—can come together.”

Campbell says, “I want the community to lead a groundswell” that gets more people involved with the arts, not just theatre or painting, but other arts as well. We had children from Gateway Children’s Services here the other night. We need more of that, more community outreach. So, very soon, Sinclaire Marie, a Morehead State graduate, will join the GRAC as an AmeriCorps-funded employee to be the organization’s Community Outreach Coordinator.

Beyond hiring a new employee, Campbell is seeking to do some other things: involving more volunteers, reinstituting a committee system to allow more people to become involved with helping lead the GRAC, and helping create a regional groundswell for the arts. Second, involve more people from throughout the service area (Montgomery and surrounding counties—including Clark) working on committees or serving on the board of directors.

And then, there is a need for new funding sources. In part, Campbell hopes to bring more sponsorship money in by allowing local businesses to become “Community Sponsors” for as little as $50 and, of course, by continuing to seek out corporate and other more significant sponsorships applying for grants.

Upcoming events at the GRAC include Woodsongs Café Live featuring Bee Taylor on August 25th; on September 2nd, the GRAC and the Montgomery County Health Department are co-sponsoring the opening of an exhibition of art by recovering artists; Paint for Paws is on September 10, as is a showing of the 1939 movie Gulliver’s Travels; finally, September 29th is Open Mic Night. For more information about any of these events, call the GRAC at (859) 498-6264.