Maureen Daly started work last week as Fuquay-Varina’s first arts center director.
She’s tasked with overseeing the design and operation of the new Fuquay-Varina Arts Center, which is in the process of being developed since the town bought the former Stars Theater and Arts Center last year.
Phil Szostak of Szostak Design recently presented about a dozen possibilities to transform the Vance Street building, a former Belk department store that has a 147-seat theater, classrooms and meeting space.
Meanwhile, Daly also will help determine the role of the arts in the town’s efforts to redevelop and invigorate its downtown.
“People might think it’s just about building the facility, but there’s a lot more to it,” she said. “There are intricacies going back to the idea of the cultural hub – what will let us grow instead of just accommodating what we already have.”
Daly, an Ohio native who has degrees in theater performance and directing, has years of experience managing performing arts organizations. She comes to Fuquay-Varina after three years working as the executive director of the 80-year-old Twin Cities Stage, the oldest performing arts organization in Winston-Salem. Before that, she was director of the Imperial Centre for the Arts & Sciences in Rocky Mount.
Bottom line, at my core, I believe the arts are a necessity for life – for success, for happiness, for community.
We talked to Daly about what brought her to Wake County and what she hopes to accomplish in her new role.
Q: How did you become interested in the arts?
A: I was born in Ohio, but by virtue of my dad’s job, we moved around, maybe five or six times, so I had some exposure as a kid to different areas. We were outside Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, and back to Atlanta.
I have three siblings, and we went to the movies, the symphony and plays. We used to always go to museums and state parks. Having that kind of exposure to places and the arts, that was part of growing up. I never had to create a love of the arts because I grew up with it.
It was really kind of cool, because when it came time to go to college and think about what I wanted to do, the arts were a really legitimate choice. It wasn’t out there or anything like that; it was just another industry. It made it simple.
Q: You’ve said you enjoy the idea of having a blank slate as the first person to occupy this role for the town. Could you talk about how that feels?
A: That’s kind of scary, I have to tell you. There are expectations all over the place. Every person invested in any way has an idea of what that position should do.
On the flip side, though, I really respect the town’s leadership. They have been very clear in their communication of their expectation. And they will tell you, they don’t know fully the parameters of what they want. But they want someone who is willing to take the journey with them so we can put it all together. In my mind, that speaks really well of them.
Q: Art is often a deeply personal experience, yet your job is to make a civic commodity out of it. How do you balance art’s creative and aesthetic demands with the practical and administrative aspects of your role?
A: That’s one of the major challenges of the arts. If we want to support the idea that the arts are an important part of quality of life, of community life, that comes at a price.
I think that it’s still really difficult to balance that and how you deliver it with very finite resources. Especially, too, because our people, and our communities, are much more culturally aware. That means anything our community provides has to be elevated. We have to try to stay ahead of the wave while trying to figure out what we need in the years down the road.
How do you build a space that fits for 20 years? How do you build a program that keeps the art an appropriate level, not dumbing things down, but still give them the fundamentals to get people where they want to go?
Q: As a town employee, how will you approach the politics of those decisions?
A: When our school systems are running tight, the first things that go are chorus or theater departments. I’m not saying we should cut math, but finding that balance becomes the role of government: to fundamentally support art as part of the enrichment of the community for the folks who are here and to attract folks who might come here.
That isn’t to say they have to pay for everything. I think we get into trouble if you were to get into a program that says, “Oh, this is great, let’s have a community theater and the city will pay for all of it.” You have to have investment from everybody. It gives everybody ownership.
Q: Your last two positions were in cities larger than Fuquay-Varina. What was it about this town and the job that convinced you to come here?
A: Before coming down for interviews, I didn’t really know that much about the town. But obviously we can all go online and learn quite a bit pretty quickly, so I did, and I learned a lot. The thing that attracted me was the job itself, the prospect of building an arts center and actually growing arts programming.
Doing more research and walking around town, it’s really evident that the arts are fundamental in this community, and I liked the prospect of creating that cultural hub in a historic downtown area. The more I came into the town, the more I came to enjoy my time here.
But Fuquay-Varina certainly is on the smaller side of things. What’s fascinating to me is how much cultural stuff they have going on – festivals, classes and experiences. During the interview process, I had to make up an event to pitch to a potential corporate sponsor. That’s standard stuff, so I said, “Oh, let’s see, I’ll make up an event that celebrates Fuquay-Varina.”
But I looked at the website and they already had one. So I tried again, thinking I’d organize an outdoor concert. But they already had an outdoor concert, outdoor movies. They had everything.
Q: That being said, the town hired you, in part, to complement its plans for a new arts center and an arts district. What are you doing, in the short term, to get started?
A: This week has been a bit about meeting other folks that are part of the city family, getting out and starting to meet folks around the block downtown. I’d have to give a shoutout to the town board and administration, because they’ve put me in a position where I actually will have some input with the design process.
It’s really nice to be a part of the team from this point forward and not come in nine months down the line and just finish up.
Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan