In the wake of recent complaints about black citizens' access to the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Center, the facility held a community meeting Tuesday night to gather feedback on ways it can better engage the neighborhood around it.
A number of community residents told the Lyric's leadership that the facility, which reopened in 2010 after a $6 million renovation, had effectively shut out the neighborhood.
"Where in this process did we as citizens lose the opportunity to use this building?" asked Henry Kenion.
Bruce Mundy said the initial hope was that volunteers could provide programming so neighborhood children would be seen leaving the Lyric with dancing shoes and art supplies under their arms.
"They would become actors and painters and poets and musicians," he said. "They see the lights turned off because we're worried about the electric bill. ... Their hopes were dashed."
Brannon Dunn said elderly citizens have told him of activities they "used to be able to do ... at the 'old' Lyric."
"The citizens aren't being engaged in the process," he said. "There is an outrage ... people feeling left out."
Several citizens indicated that they would like to see more movies and that the theater needed to do a better job of advertising its programming.
Board chairwoman Freda Meriwether and executive director Yetta Young told the gathering the facility was constrained by a lack of resources in some areas.
"The Lyric is a business," Young said.
For example, they said that although they are working on plans to show movies, and another organization has agreed to buy a projector for the Lyric, that probably would not bring in as much income as other types of events.
Meriwether said the $135,000 the facility receives from the city covers operational costs; $250,000 more is needed for programming.
She said the Lyric's board "got off to a slow start" in its first year, but it has plans for some changes, including holding board meetings later in the day so more community members may participate.
The board also will review its rental rates in comparison to similar facilities elsewhere and develop a fund-raising strategy to help pay for programming, she said.
Patricia-Devine Muhammad, president of the Historic East End Community Association, has recently complained about the black community's access to the Lyric to the U.S. Justice Department and sent letters to a number of elected officials.
First District Councilman Chris Ford, who serves on the Lyric board as a representative of the Urban County Council, told the crowd of about 50 that on the road to success, a U-turn is sometimes necessary.
"We're not opposed to doing that if need be," he said.