By DRU MURRAY
After a seven-year stint as the Art Center Manager at the city-owned Medical Center of Lewisville Grand Theater (MCL Grand), Jim Wear is stepping down and Melinda Camp is stepping up to try to fill his shoes.
Wear assumed his position in December 2009, 13 months before the new MCL Grand opened in January 2011. Since then, Wear’s dedicated efforts and that of his colleagues have ensured popularity for the MCL Grand by presenting a plethora of events. The facility hosts concerts, theatrical productions, visual art exhibitions, dance performances ranging from ballet to tap to modern, social events, public ceremonies and festivals, and classes. It has even hosted funerals, coming-of-age events— quinciñeras (celebrations of Latina girls’ 15th birthdays), and arangetrams (dance recitals of classical dance by Indian girls of 15 or 16). Said Wear, “the success of the facility is due to the diversity of its offerings.”
The state-of-the-art facility is well suited to hosting such varying events due to its two theaters, art gallery with moveable walls, 14,000-square-foot courtyard, five classrooms, and recital hall/banquet room.
The number of MCL Grand presentations and events is impressive. Wear stated that in 2013, 1,500 occurred in the MCL Grand. Now, 1,200 events take place per year. One reason the MCL Grand is so popular is that the city promoted daytime use of the facility by businesses. The daytime use contributes to recovery of operating costs and brings in people who might not otherwise know about the facility.”
One of Wear’s goals was to overcome the negative assumptions some people make about visual arts exhibits. First, he said, they dislike admission fees and second, they believe that the art will be inaccessible to them. “Admission to the galleries is free and we try to present relatable artwork,” said Wear.
When Wear first came aboard, he worked alongside Walter Lemons, a technical manager (who passed away in 2013), and Tim Philips, a senior media specialist. The three of them were so busy that the trio was working seven days per week from early morning until late at night. They supplemented their efforts with contract labor when necessary.
Now, Wear said, “We have six full-time employees and 10 part-time ones, with plans to eventually grow to 12 full-time employees.” Among those employees is Joe Nagel, who moved from being part-time to full time. He is a theatre technician who, according to Wear, is incredibly adept at computer technology and who also knows how to keep the building’s systems working in conjunction with the Facilities Department. Tim Phillips is no longer primarily an AV technician. He will be in charge of booking all events like Texas Tunes and of operating the Wayne Ferguson Plaza. Another staffer whose position evolved is that of Aaron Kays. “Initially, Aaron served as a part-time theater attendant. His training is in theatrical design, so Aaron has been tapped to take over coordination of the art galleries,” said Wear.
Before his departure, Wear is working with staff members to create a plan for the Art Center’s operations for the next 12 months. “My ideas about that are only a point of departure. We function as a team in decision-making,” said Wear.
Wear’s “greatest joy comes from helping to develop other people. It is not a strain for me to do that. The public will not notice anything but improvement when I leave,” he said. One of the people Wear was instrumental in helping develop was his successor Melinda Camp. For six months, Camp worked as a “way-overqualified” secretary as she possesses a college degree and business experience. Camp organized the MCL Grand’s business operations. Prior to her arrival, Wear was receiving so many phone inquiries that he couldn’t return them all.
When an event planning technician position opened, Camp applied and was hired. Within a year, she was promoted to Art Center supervisor and now manages the facility’s day-to-day operations. “She has greatly improved the workflow of our organization and the quality of service to our clients, the users of the facility, “ Wear effused.
Camp has completed the City of Lewisville’s Leadership Development program. Camp also attended training offered by the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM), a group Wear has been affiliated with for 20 years. “The association provides general business training but also specific training in operation of arts facilities,” said Wear.
Not only is Camp “already there as far as the business operation is concerned,” noted Wear, but she “also has an artistic eye and studied piano for 10 years. I think she is excited about this opportunity.”
Wear’s ability to shepherd others in the artistic arena comes from his extensive background as a college drama teacher. He entered the arts profession after veering off course from his original intention to become an architect. The acting bug bit him in high school so he earned a bachelor’s in acting and directing from the University of Texas at Austin. He then earned an MFA in directing and theatrical design from the University of Oklahoma. Alongside his 20-year teaching career, Wear worked for nonprofit arts organizations.
When Wear returned to Texas in 1985, he became a fundraiser for Southern Methodist University before serving as the operations manager for Dallas’ Majestic Theater. He managed the Garland Civic Theatre for six years until he encountered heart trouble. After a brief sojourn with AT&T, Wear directed the Arts Center of Plano for 4 years, followed by 9+ years with the City of Plano, where he assisted in the planning, opening, and operating of arts facilities and programs. He contributed to revitalization efforts in Old Downtown Plano involved through development of the Courtyard Theatre, the Cox Building Playhouse, and the redo of Haggard Park. He also contributed to the creation of Oak Point Park Amphitheatre.
His experience with Plano revitalization endeavors prepared Wear to help with similar efforts in Lewisville. Wear is “happy and proud to be part of the early stages of the revitalization of Old Town Lewisville.” Wear explained that development of the entire area adjacent to the MCL Grand is gaining momentum with the current and future construction of five new restaurants, 75 townhomes, and an entrepreneurial center.
“All of these will be good for the Art Center,” he said, “and a multitude of free parking is already available in the Old Town area, but that will be examined going forward.”
Besides working career jobs, Wear has generously served on the boards of The Southwest Theatre and Film Association, Texans for the Arts, and Texas Nonprofit Theaters, Inc. He has also served as a review panelist for grant programs in Dallas and Irving and worked on special projects for Texas Commission on the Arts.
The only reason Wear is leaving is he’s “worn himself out.” In ‘retirement,’ Wear plans to do the things he’s lacked time for like going to plays, concerts, and art exhibits, attending movies, and traveling with his wife; writing; completing house renovations; and reconnecting with former students and colleagues. He may participate in urban planning with a consulting business and the City of Lewisville may have projects for him.
“It’s a great satisfaction to see people I’ve helped develop professionally take leadership roles for the City of Lewisville, if nothing else than to say I knew them when,” concluded Wear.
When queried about the plans she has for her new position, Camp replied, “Of course, I want to continue Jim’s vision and see it through. We want to expand and involve more young adults by coordinating with the University of North Texas (UNT), Texas Woman’s University, and North Central Texas College. Jim had already met with representatives of UNT’s arts program, so we are building on that relationship. We have added two art shows with UNT students in addition to our MFA art show.”
Another goal Camp looks forward to accomplishing is “increasing the visibility and use of Wayne Ferguson Plaza as it is the centerpiece of Old Town and part of Lewisville’s Vision 2025.” Vision 2025 is a plan set in motion by Lewisville officials two years ago that outlines what must be done to achieve “a bright future” for the city by 2025, which will be Lewisville’s centennial year.
Camp noted that “We established the viability of the Art Center and hope its use encourages further economic development, which is going to make this a really special place.”