Being at the helm of the Center for the Arts (CFTA) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee for just six months hasn’t stopped Executive Director Regina Ward from deploying her vision of giving every element of the community theater a spot in center stage.
Each year, the organization produces 10 to 12 mainstage performances, with another 7 to 9 productions done by CFTA’s children’s program. The organization also has a vocal academy that’s open to children – and adults – of all ages and is undergoing a revamp of sorts to improve in-house support of its teachers.
Operating in a historic 112-year-old building, the Center for the Arts was once a Post Office until 1962, when it then became a library. The library then relocated in 1995, paving the way for the CFTA to open the curtain for an operation that has entertained audiences and successfully promoted the arts throughout Middle Tennessee.
“I have been in nonprofit for 15 years, with roles spanning event planning and major fundraising,” said Ward. “I just love it. We work together with businesses in the community, and I love being able to build relationships.”
With Ward’s vision of improving and promoting every element the organization offers for community enhancement and education, she’s also taken the time to improve business operations, choosing PNC as CFTA’s bank two months into her tenure to streamline certain aspects. This included a merchant services account that has changed how the theater approaches billing for vendors and academy participants. In addition, Ward is appreciative of how much her relationship manager, Jake Ingrassia, wanted to not only earn a business relationship, but be involved in the theater.
“Jake is an amazing actor!” said Ward. “He was just cast as the lead in our production of Shrek. He didn’t even participate in callbacks. The director knew that’s who she wanted playing the lead role on the first night of auditions. He’s phenomenal.”
Ward spoke more about her unique relationship with PNC, emphasis on community education and the importance of relationship-building – and how the arts can bring people of any age in the community together.
Can you describe what the historical context around the CFTA building means to the community in Murfreesboro?
Personally, that’s near and dear to me. I grew up in this area and still remember when it was a library. Before then, it was a Post Office. We have patrons come in for shows who remember mailing letters to their loved ones in this space. That’s so important to me. It’s a beautiful thing that we’re able to inhabit a space that has meant so much to the community for so many years. And we’re in the heart of Murfreesboro, right in the middle of our downtown square.
Can you tell us more about the CFTA Youth Academy and some of your objectives around this program?
We’re very well known as a community theater, but there are other elements to our space that are equally as important. And we want to speak more to that. Our academy has previously been focused on child-focused education around Broadway-style music and performance, which has been amazing. But Royce Phillips, our Vocal Academy director, and I have been drilling down into ideas around what else the program can offer.
We had the idea of also focusing on students who might be older adults who want to either prepare for an audition or just love choral music. We wanted to reach out to that demographic and offer something fun. It’s really working. Our director recently told us about someone who reached out for lessons, then got her seven-year-old to join her in the program. We’re building the academy out where we can be inclusive of all age ranges.
Our revamped program also offers education in a variety of genres, rather than just Broadway. Also, previously, students would have to find an external teacher to give them lessons and that teacher would rent space from us. As part of this program restructure, we’re including ways for our teachers to be in-house, where we can help them with educational materials and instruments and make sure they have the footing they need to concentrate on educational elements of their work. We don’t want them to have to worry about if they packed up their piano to bring it to their lesson at our space! That’s something we’re really building out and we’re really excited about it.
A lot of theaters struggled during the pandemic. How did CFTA find a way to stay afloat?
It was certainly difficult, but CFTA stayed afloat because of a lot of amazingly kind foundation donations and local government funding. The organization also capitalized on some fun opportunities. This was before I took over as executive director, but they did a few productions in outdoor spaces in partnership with our Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation department, along with another private company that has a great outdoor space in town. It was during a point where people were wanting to get out but be careful at the same time. We had that opportunity and from what I heard; it was amazing.
PNC has multiple arts-related sponsorships across the country, including right up the road in Nashville with the Ryman Auditorium in the form of PNC Plaza and other initiatives. Can you talk about what it’s like banking with an institution that supports the arts in various and major ways?
That’s something that is so unique. I’ve spent so many years in the nonprofit space, and I’ve dealt with my fair share of financial institutions. They were all wonderful. However, you can tell when a company has a passion for a specific organization or cause. Something that I think makes PNC unique is that they have such a great focus on the arts. I can’t say that this has been an experience I’ve had before. Seeing how many arts focused organizations they support, it’s just inspirational. That’s been a huge blessing for us. They fully understand our business and know how to support its future as we continue to grow and expand locally.
You’ve been in the nonprofit sector for 15 years. Can you talk about how it has evolved and what other aspiring nonprofit leaders can expect when trying to carve out their own careers or start their own organizations?
The nonprofit space has certainly been evolving over the past 15 to 20 years. I’ve been working closely with businesses in the communities where I’ve worked, but it has been in an increasingly more frequent volume. That’s because so many businesses are becoming more intertwined with their social responsibilities and what that looks like from a corporate standpoint. For me that has been a lot of fun, and I know future nonprofit leaders will find that rewarding. Also, nonprofits need to place an emphasis on relationships. I love being able to not only build relationships with community members as individuals, but also build relationships with their companies. That’s a huge part of why I stayed in fundraising.