Name: Bereniece Jones-Centeno
Organization: Partners for the PAC/Charlene Larsen Center for the Performing Arts
Annual Operating Budget: $36,350
Learn more at partnersforthepac.org
Interview originally published on July 30, 2020.
Responses below were written by Partners for the PAC Board Member and volunteer Kit Ketcham
How are the arts playing a role during this critical time?
Our local arts outlets are mostly going virtual, with Facebook live performances, virtual tours of art exhibits, and You-Tube collections of performances.
What has been the most notable / most unpredictable / most challenging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your organization? Biggest financial challenge?
What a shock, both personally and financially, to realize that singing and orchestral/band concerts, as well as small groups, could inadvertently be COVID-19 spreaders, just through the act of singing or blowing a horn. Our musical performances and rehearsals are the heart of our organization and we are reeling from the need to cease those events at least for the time being. This, of course, is financially devastating, particularly at a time when our building is changing hands, putting us on even shakier ground.
NOTE: on June 29th, Trinity LLC purchased the building. It has solidified our standing in the community in fact and the buyer is a wonderful supporter of the Larsen Center (new name)!
To date, what steps have you taken to mitigate that impact?
Our building is a historic structure and has suffered for years from delayed maintenance issues. Thanks to several private donors, we have used the pandemic lockdown to tackle those roof leaks and other necessary repairs to external and internal structures, using volunteer labor where practicable.
What kind of innovation in management has developed for your your organization, and what challenges have you encountered when implementing new innovative ideas?
We have recently hired a part-time Executive Director, using grant funds when possible, in order to move beyond our all-volunteer structure, in which the board acted as a “committee of the whole”, attempting to cover all the bases with limited experience and expertise. It is clear that we need to be able to offer much more programming than we have in the past, in order to stay afloat.
What are the short-term and potential long-term effects of this shut down for your organization and the arts in general?
Under the constrictions of the COVID-19 situation, we are uncertain about when we can restart our regular programming in a safe and effective way. Our local community and our normal audiences are full of folks who are generous, excited about the arts, AND of retirement age. We want to be able to serve them safely, and this will require some deep thinking about how to do that effectively. In addition, many of our performers are also in their retirement years.
What is a positive collaboration or initiative born as a result of this situation within your organization or that you’ve seen from your peers and colleagues in the arts industry?
There is an ongoing effort to develop an arts district in Astoria called North Coast Performing Arts, including the other venues and outlets within the city and surrounding area. This would help us keep from overscheduling events and encroaching on others’ audiences. It’s also been very helpful in sharing resources and information.
What is the biggest lesson learned as a leader during this crisis?
We are so dependent on our volunteers! Our appreciation for those who donate and spend their time in correcting maintenance deficiencies, as well as participating in our events as ushers and other volunteer roles is boundless! We will be working on ways to show our appreciation and use our volunteers wisely.
Understanding that the future is hard to predict, how might the lasting impacts of COVID-
19 change your upcoming season? Should the tone of pieces or performances change?
We will be staging fewer large ensemble performances, at least for a while, which is sad but necessary. We will need to figure out how to create social distancing in our seating and how to manage refreshments and crowding during intermissions. We are also making arrangements to have smaller performance groups record some of their work to be live streamed or watched when convenient. In the meantime, sure wish somebody would invent a droplets-catching shield to insert invisibly between stage and audience!
Regarding the creative process, what has been a source of inspiration for you/your organization at this time or how has your creative process changed and evolved? What outlets or channels have you sought out to continue to express your creativity, personally and/or professionally?
Many of the small groups in our area have been generously providing musical experiences online, both with a tip jar and some just for enjoyment. Meeting with North Coast Performing Arts has also been inspiring and comforting.
What message do you have for the artists and fellow art leaders in our community today?
Creativity will outlast the effects of the pandemic! Continue to do your work and trust that there will be a place and time for it. This world-wide disaster need not destroy our need to express ourselves artistically.
What question do you wish someone would ask?!
Our venue is an important element of our local cultural performance community and a relatively safe space: a small, high-ceilinged venue with natural (versus mechanical) ventilation, would help? Also… it is not only our audience who is older, it is also our performers…Clatsop County has been so fortunate to avoid a big outbreak and deaths. Perhaps that says we would be a relatively safe place to work on developing safe performance spaces.
When looking to the future, what brings you hope?
Our artists, who continue to practice, to paint, to create, to use the circumstances of our lives right now to make something beautiful and expressive. Our volunteers, who continue to be eager to help, to donate, to stick with us as we muddle through the challenges of this difficult time in history together.
About Bereniece Jones-Centeno:
Bereniece Jones-Centeno is an arts administrator, educator, and musician, and is happy to call Astoria Oregon home after moving there in 2016. She moved to Oregon from Chicago in 2008 to sing for Eugene Opera and later become the President of the Board. She also studied at the University of Oregon where she completed her Master of Music degree and the Arts and Administration program. She was introduced to Astoria through the Astoria Music Festival in 2009 working as a director for the apprentice program and eventually becoming the Managing Director for the 2016 festival year. To briefly assist with programming, she was the Artistic Director at the Liberty Theatre in 2017. Later that year, Governor Kate Brown appointed Bereniece to the board of the Oregon Cultural Trust where she is currently serving the first of two terms. Other volunteer work includes serving as the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Cascadia Chamber Opera, a touring opera company with its home base now in Astoria. Bereniece has recently become the Executive Director of the Charlene Larsen Center for the Performing Arts formerly, Clatsop Community College Performing Arts Center of Astoria.
About Partners for the PAC:
The Partners for the PAC is a coalition of 8 local organizations that joined forces to ensure the Performing Arts Center (PAC) remains an affordable space offering high quality public arts and educational events for Clatsop County and surrounding areas. The PAC has a niche as an intimate space for community based performing groups and events focused on arts and culture events and education. The Partners maintain the facility, schedule and market performances, and spearhead events and fundraisers. Since 2013, the Partners for the PAC have presented some of the most varied and affordable performances and events in the region and the local community rely on its programming and its partner organizations for opportunities to gather, learn, rehearse, and perform.