Showcasing the arts to everyone

Posted by on Mar 4, 2016

Photo by Anita L. Sherman. State Theatre Executive Director Steve Barker operates from an upstairs office. Here between several computer screens and a legion of post it notes he coordinates upcoming shows, fundraising efforts and community partnerships.

During a presentation at Tuesday’s board meeting, County Parks and Rec Director John Barrett paid kudos to the State Theatre. They will host an open house on March 30 to launch a new initiative where the public can weigh in on what they would like to see in the county’s park system.

Recently, the State Theatre opened its doors to host a similar community outreach venue spearheaded by town councilwoman Jamie Clancey where a dialogue has started on ways to improve the lives of at risk youth.

It’s these kinds of community collaborations that State Theatre Executive Director Steven Barker is focused on forging. That and making the State Theatre financially sustainable in the years ahead. It’s all part of his vision to grow the State Theatre as a rich and regional asset.

And not only bringing in outside talent to share but building on the healthy, budding talent that Barker sees continuing to grow in the Piedmont region.

The State Theatre received a new burst of financial energy at the beginning of the year when Rapidan resident Joe Grills stepped forward assuring Barker that “the theatre is not closing.”

Grills, a past chairman of the Montpelier Foundation and a member of several investment organizations, now sits on the Theatre’s board as a financial advisor and fundraising mentor.

Barker’s end of the year campaign to bring in monies to keep the doors open was wildly successful on the one hand yielding a quarter of a million dollars but that figure is not the total needed.
Grills stepping in to help has provided some gap funding but the financial coffers will require steady filling and to that end new initiatives will be rolled out in terms of ongoing memberships, grants and other revenue streams.
Barker wants to dispel some misinformation that continues to rear its head. In addition to operating costs, there is debt service on two significant loans that were made to the State Theatre early on when it was in the renovation and rebuilding stage. According to Barker, the holders of those loans are not immediately calling that debt in.

It’s out there but not looming as an immediate direction of funds.

Barker smiles. “Contrary to what is circulating out there, I am not making an enormous salary.”

Nor are the ranks of primarily volunteers that have stepped forward to help with marketing, business development and grant seeking. In addition, there are a host of new volunteer faces on the board.

“I chose Culpeper,” says Barker, “it’s the next place to be.” Growing up in a rich theatre background in Richmond, Barker sees himself as not just as an arts aficionado but as a guy who knows about the business of ‘show’ business.

“It usually takes about five years to get to the point where you are sustainable…unfortunately there has been some ground lost that we’re attempting to make up for,” says Barker who has a multi-pronged approach to make the State Theatre a community anchor and memorable place for the next generation coming up.

Barker is branching out. Admittedly having a ‘professor’ side to himself, he enjoys directing plays, offering theatre workshops and classes. Another production, Charlotte’s Web, is planned for May.

Since Barker came on board, more and more educational field trips to the theatre have brought in hundreds of students to see films, observe plays and be part of musical venues. The lobby is an art gallery.

Barker is a visionary and sees the day when every student in the area will share in a collective memory bank of seeing a play or musical at the State Theatre.

Barker pulls out a regional map and points to Culpeper.

“It’s at the center of this area yet the spokes of this wheel have more going on arts wise…we need to bring that energy here.”

“Art is a vital key in the economic development of an area,” says Barker who readily recognizes the synergy that could exist between not only local restaurants and retailers but continuing to build on Culpeper as a destination place for the arts in all their myriad forms.

“The soil is rich here, it’s time to plant seeds.”

To learn more about upcoming events at The State Theatre or if you’d like to become a member or make a donation, see their website