Kathy Bateson

Celebrates 10 Years at the Helm of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina

   Ten years ago this month, Kathleen Bateson took the reins of the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina with visions of turning the fledgling visual and performing arts pavilion into a regional Mecca for arts and culture.
   Her plans included diversifying programming, expanding educational opportunities, and developing outreach efforts that would allow everyone to participate in the arts.
   "I didn't want people to see the Arts Center as unapproachable," Bateson said. "I wanted it to be a place where everybody could come to express their inner artist or just enjoy the arts."
And come they have.
   More than 70,000 residents and visitors have attended the free Outreach events she initiated, including A Taste of Gullah, Youth ArtsFest, Family Fiesta Latina and the Flag Day Festival.
   Two years ago, she set her sights on enhancing the Arts Center's education programming. She expanded community workshops, added a toddler art program and adopted the Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts. As a result, participation in education-related programs increased 37 percent, bringing the total number of annual services provided to 18,249.
   "I've always felt arts education is important because it offers children the opportunity to celebrate their differences," said Bateson, who is a Pennsylvania certified arts educator. "It's where self-esteem is built."    
   Eager to boost theater attendance, she launched the extraordinarily popular "People's Choice" Theater Series five years ago. The audience response has been dramatic. Ticket sales jumped 41 percent from 17,031 in 2003-04 to 24,016 in 2007-08. During the same period, subscription sales rocketed a whopping 89 percent from 1,801 to 3,405.
   "This center is here to serve the community and the region," Bateson said. "If we're not connecting with our audiences, we're not doing our job."
   Locals aren't the only ones enjoying the Arts Center's theater series. This summer, visitors made up 40 percent of the audience for The Buddy Holly Story.
   "We've become an important amenity for the summer visitor," she said. "They may come for the beach, but they're interested in our theater as well."
   Bateson, who has owned property on Hilton Head Island since 1993, was a visitor herself when she discovered the community was building an arts center.
   "I saw the big dirt hole that would eventually become the Arts Center," she said. "I never dreamed that I would be called a couple of years later to be a management consultant to the board of trustees."
   At the time, Bateson was founder and president of Management for the Arts, a firm specializing in institutional planning, organizational restructuring and new business ventures. Her numerous cultural clients included The Cleveland Foundation, Pew Charitable Trusts, the Ohio Arts Council, the North Carolina Dance Theater and Washington Ballet.
   A graduate of Seton Hill University, a women's college in Greensburg, Pa., Bateson had worked as a goldsmith, an art teacher, and a professional set designer before shifting into a corporate career and then arts management. Her arts-packed resume includes stints at the historic Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond, Va., the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' TheatreVirginia and the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami, Fl., where she increased subscriptions to levels never again matched.
   Her accomplishments at the Arts Center have been equally impressive. She has established collaborations with the highly respected New York Times, as well as the Smithsonian. And she has expanded the relationship with the Kennedy Center Partners in Education, helping the Arts Center gain a national reputation.
   On the state level, she has partnered with the South Carolina Arts Alliance, South Carolina Museum and the South Carolina Arts Commission. Two years ago, the Arts Commission presented the Arts Center with the prestigious Elizabeth O'Neill Verner Governor's Award, the highest honor bestowed by the state in the arts.
   "I set a personal goal for us to be relevant in our community -- and in our region," Bateson said. "The Verner award validates that we met that goal."

Q & A

Q. What cultural programs are you particularly proud of?
A. I started a GullahFest, now called "A Taste of Gullah," and have partnered with the Native Islander Business & Community Affairs Association (NIBCAA) to host numerous Gullah Celebration events over the years,  including symposiums, gospel concerts, the Gullah Playhouse, and the art exhibit, De Aarts Ob We People, to help preserve the important native island culture.
What new goals do you have for the Arts Center?
A. I would like to see us build an education center on the property that would allow us to increase the number of classes and educational programs we offer.

What do you do when you're not at the Arts Center?
A. You'll find me at the Coligny Theatre, browsing for antiques or exploring the Lowcountry.