11:51 AM EST, November 29, 2012
LANCASTER — For the past 22 years, Debbie Hoskins helped bring top name talent to Danville and Richmond. Now, she will try to do the same for her hometown.
“I’m taking on a new job,” Hoskins said Wednesday. “They’re opening a beautiful new theater, and they’ve entrusted me to put it on the map.”
Hoskins, who booked shows for Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts and Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for the Arts, was named earlier this month as executive director of the Lancaster Grand Theater, which is scheduled to open in the spring after a painstaking $4.2 million restoration that has been years in the making.
“It’s really going to be a cultural center for this whole area. We’ll have some great shows here,” she promised.
Hoskins grew up in Lancaster and never left, despite her high-profile jobs working with some of the world’s grandest performing acts. She began her working life at the former Matthews Conveyors in Danville, attending college at night to earn a degree in public relations. That brought her to the Norton Center as an administrative assistant in 1991, and she stayed at Centre for 19-1/2 years.
“I loved the Norton Center,” she said.
She became former director George Foreman’s top assistant and helped bring major talent to Danville year after year and stage the first vice-presidential debate in 2000. Perhaps her biggest coup was her last: a performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Gustavo Dudamel in September 2010.
Having been passed over for the top job at the Norton Center after Foreman’s departure, Hoskins quickly landed the job as the first director of the brand new performing arts center at EKU, where she had earned her bachelor’s degree and later a master’s in public administration. Hoskins was ousted from that job after a year and a half, however, for reasons EKU officials have resisted making public.
Hoskins didn’t want to say much about that situation on Wednesday.
“I loved what I did at Eastern, and I worked very long days. I booked their performances for this year, and I left them in the black,” she said. “The focus I have right now is making the Grand the best theater it can be.”
Hoskins believes she has a lot to work with in the restored 500-seat theater, which first opened in 1925 and was one of central Kentucky’s finest showplaces for entertainment. It is being renovated to its former glory and updated with the latest technology, and should be ready for a March debut, she said.
“The acoustics and everything else are very high end,” she said.
Hoskins expects her experience and connections in the arts and entertainment industry will allow her to book acts to the Grand that are on par with those that came to Centre and EKU. She also said her local connections will help with the fundraising need to get the theater up and running.
“There are performers you can get every day that people will recognize. The agencies recognize my name. I have a history with these folks, and a lot of friends,” she said. “In my career, I’ve had a lot of people who have supported the projects I’ve been involved in.”
Hoskins hopes to put on about 10 marquee events during the Grand’s first year and raise that number to 15 or 20 in following years. She also expects the theater to be used for high school and community drama and music performances and other locally flavored cultural events, both public and private. Guidelines and policies about use of the theater are currently being developed, she said.
As with Danville and Richmond, Hoskins said she believes people from around the state will be drawn to Lancaster, not only for the talent on display but also an appreciation for small-town charm and a sentimentality to keep those places vibrant.
“People in Kentucky want to revitalize the small towns, they want success for small towns. If you do it right, they will come,” she said.
“It will change a lot of things around our county. Right now, it kind of a drive-through place, but people will see Lancaster as a place to go.”
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