RICHMOND — Debra Hoskins, former director of programs and public relations at Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts, will be the new executive director of the Center for the Performing Arts at Eastern Kentucky University, which is set to open in the fall.
"In my career, this is the most exciting move I have ever made," Hos kins said during an interview before the official announcement, made Monday morning in the lobby of the center, which is under construction. "You don't get an opportunity to walk in to the ground floor of a new state-of-the art facility very often."
Bob Rogow, chair of the center's board of directors, said the stars aligned to bring the EKU alumnus back to Richmond to direct the center. Hoskins is taking over for the new center's original director, Katherine Eckstrand, who resigned late last year, citing family medical issues in her home state, Ohio. Around the same time, Hos kins was stepping down from her job at the Norton Center, saying it was time to move on. Earlier in the year, she had been passed over for the director's post after longtime Norton Center leader George Foreman left to oversee the arts centers at the University of Georgia.
"She knows the regional audience better than anyone else," Rogow said. "She has the contacts and a reputation that will bring instant credibility to the Center for the Performing Arts at EKU."
The new center, on EKU's Richmond campus, will have a 2,012-seat theater capable of presenting programs from Broadway-style touring productions to concerts and dance programs, and a 250-seat black box theater for smaller productions.
Conducting a tour of the center after the news conference to announce Hoskins' appointment, James Street, EKU's interim executive vice president for administration, said the venue is on pace to be completed by early summer.
"There is no doubt we will be ready for the first program," he said.
The first, or any, programming for the center has yet to be announced. But Hoskins' appointment raised expectations, based on the recent track record of the Norton Center.
Hoskins was one of the prime movers in making the center's dot on Kentucky's cultural map much larger than would be suggested by Danville's modest population and Centre College enrollment of 1,200 students. Under Foreman and Hoskins, the center brought in a slew of superstars, including classical artists such as Yo-Yo Ma and the New York Philharmonic, and pop legends such as Tony Bennett and Willie Nelson.
Hoskins was widely credited with being the key player in bringing the world-renowned Vienna Philharmonic and conductor Gustavo Dudamel to the Norton Center in September; the booking was considered a coup for any venue outside New York.
When Foreman left in late 2009, Centre officials hired Steven A. Hoffman, who came to Kentucky from the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, Calif.
In comments Monday morning, some EKU and Richmond officials made it clear they thought they were benefitting from a Centre mistake.
"How could any other center let this woman go?" Madison County Judge-Executive Kent Clark said, adding he had a thank-you card on his desk, ready to send to the Norton Center.
Officials also sought to position the EKU center as a major venue in the state, pointing out that the main theater will be only slightly smaller than Whitney Hall at The Kentucky Center in Louisville and that the center is much closer to Central Kentucky's interstate highways than Lexington venues such as the Opera House.
The move will bring Hos kins back to her alma mater, where she earned a bachelor's degree in public relations in 1990 and a master's degree in public administration in 2007. She said she earned both degrees as a non-traditional student.
"I will always be grateful for the opportunity Eastern gave me," Hoskins said. "It is a special place to me."
Hoskins said she will focus on making the new EKU center competitive in general, not specifically with the similarly sized Norton Center.
"If being successful means being competitive," she said, "we will be competitive."
Reach Rich Copley at (859) 231-3217 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3217.