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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The ArtsCenter lays off its longtime concerts director

Posted by on Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 2:11 PM

In July, Indy Week gave Tess Mangum Ocaña one of its 2012 Indies Arts Awards for her work at The ArtsCenter; earlier this week, she was laid off.
  • Photo by D.L. Anderson
  • In July, Indy Week gave Tess Mangum Ocaña one of its 2012 Indies Arts Awards for her work at The ArtsCenter; earlier this week, she was laid off.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Tess Mangum Ocaña—the concerts director and facility rental coordinator at Carrboro's The ArtsCenter—announced that she had been laid off. She had held the position for 10 years.

"That Tess had maintained this position for more than a decade demonstrates how incredibly skilled she is, what an amazing job she's done," explained The ArtsCenter's Executive Director, Art Menius. "The underlying business model in which she had to work for these 10 years and 4 months is just seriously flawed and has to be completely reimagined. She was simply caught in a situation that wasn't sustainable."

Ocaña served her last day as an active employee on Monday, but she will remain on salary for a period of time. According to Menius, both of her positions have been permanently eliminated due to budget considerations.

"We are in the midst of a long-range planning process to ensure that The ArtsCenter remains strong for many decades to come. We're 38 years old now," Menius explains. "But we had to do something in the concerts area, because the ink was just too red."

The 2013 American Roots Series—already booked by Ocaña and slated to kick off January 4 with Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys—will go forward as scheduled. Other events include a songwriting master class and performance by Suzanne Vega on February 28, a performance by Judy Collins on March 3, and the Rebirth Brass Band on March 8. The upcoming season highlights Ocaña's ability to integrate music programming with The ArtsCenter's educational mission and to bring audiences into close quarters with both legendary acts and emerging local musicians.

"Back in the day, the [Carolina] Chocolate Drops and The Avett Brothers weren't famous [when they first played the ArtsCenter]," Ocaña says, reminiscing about her tenure. "Those were some great shows. But also Mavis Staples and Rickie Lee Jones, and even in August … to be able to get Lindsey Buckingham to play a 355-seat venue—that was pretty awesome."

Exactly what the future of music will be in The ArtsCenter's Earl and Rhoda Wynn Theater remains uncertain.

"'How' is the right word," says Menius, who became executive director in April. "It has to fit within our budget, else we would head down the same path The ArtsCenter's gone down too many times before. It's a very sad time for The ArtsCenter, and the end of a great decade-long era here."

Ocaña, for whom the layoff came unexpectedly, is already in talks with other venues that could benefit from her programming experience and music industry contacts.

"I'm excited for what 2013 might bring. I'm just curious to see what kind of doors might open now. But I'll really miss the audiences," says Ocaña. "Live music makes people so incredibly happy, specifically there in that venue because it's so small and intimate. I'd hate to see that go away."

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