Patrons leave the Tulsa Performing Arts Center after an event. On Monday, the nonprofit Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust took over the day-to-day operations of the city-owned facility. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World file

The Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust, the nonprofit organization that has served to provide the city’s premier arts venue with diverse programs, will now take over the day-to-day operations of the city-owned facility.

Mayor G.T. Bynum and the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust signed an agreement that went into effect July 1 and which creates a new partnership that will allow for the growth of the Tulsa PAC while creating an enhanced experience for visitors.

“It will really allow us to focus on management and operations,” said Mark Frie, chief executive officer of the Tulsa PAC Trust. “It will allow us to have some fundraising capabilities, but more importantly it will give us a greater range of flexibility when it comes to programing. We should be able to take advantage of opportunities that would not be able to happen if they needed to go through the process of getting the city’s approval.”

The change grew out of multiple studies that recommended such a management agreement as a next step in creating a stronger Performing Arts Center in Tulsa.

The new agreement will emulate those the city already has with other entities overseeing city-owned assets, such as SMG (BOK Center, Cox Business Center), the University of Tulsa (Gilcrease Museum), TZMI (Tulsa Zoo), and Billy Casper Golf Management (Page Belcher and Mohawk golf courses).

The PAC Trust will receive a management fee for its work. The fee will represent baseline city operating support, based on current net operating funding. For fiscal year 2020, Frie said, that fee will be about $1.5 million.

The Tulsa PAC Trust was founded in 1977, the same year the Tulsa PAC opened to the public. The trust was a separate entity whose primary function was to present programs that were outside the scope of what the facility’s regular user groups would offer, ranging from children’s theater to folk and jazz music to Broadway touring productions such as “August: Osage County” and “Avenue Q.”

The new agreement dissolves the distinctions between PAC staff and PAC Trust staff, making all staffers Tulsa PAC Trust employees.

Frie said, “This way, we’re all rowing in the same direction. There’s no question of who answers to whom.”

Frie added that he is hoping to expand the PAC Trust’s staff to serve the facility better.

“We’re lucky to have Jen Alden join us as our new chief financial officer, and we’re looking at creating a development staff, adding more event management staff and the like,” Frie said. “The goal is that in the next five years people will start to see a very different-looking staffing model at the PAC, whose entire goal is to provide Tulsans with the best place to experience the great talent we have in this town.”

In a statement, Bynum said: “In the last decade, the city of Tulsa has recognized the tremendous benefit we gain for cultural assets owned by the citizens of Tulsa when we can partner with a not-for-profit entity that is focused on operating them.

“Gilcrease Museum and the Tulsa Zoo have both enjoyed a renaissance since adopting this management approach,” Bynum said in the statement. “We believe the Tulsa Performing Arts Center has the potential to experience a similar renewal under the management of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust.”

The Tulsa PAC was funded through a unique public-private partnership. Voters were asked to pass a bond issue in 1973 that would provide half the funds necessary to construct the center, with philanthropists John H. Williams and Leta M. Chapman spearheading the campaign to raise the rest of the needed funds from the community.

The Tulsa PAC opened on March 19, 1977, with a gala concert that began with Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and featured jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald with the Tulsa Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Tulsa PAC, with its six performance spaces, is the primary venue for most of the city’s performing arts organizations, including Tulsa Opera, Tulsa Ballet, Tulsa Symphony, Theatre Tulsa, American Theatre Company, Theatre North, Tulsa Town Hall, Chamber Music Tulsa, Choregus Productions, Theatre Pops, Tulsa Project Theatre and Celebrity Attractions.

Billie Barnett, current chair of the Tulsa PAC Trust, said in a statement: “I believe our community wants to see the PAC thrive, grow and prosper. With improvements in the facility, partnerships and collaborations, audience growth and diversity through arts, we can continue to entertain and educate and while remaining financially secure.

“The PAC Trust takes on this task with enthusiasm and commitment so that all citizens will want to experience the Tulsa Performing Arts Center and consider it ‘Everyone’s Place.’”

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James D. Watts Jr.


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