(Newport Daily News)
The board of trustees of the planned Newport Opera House and Performing Arts Center announced Wednesday the selection of Brenda Nienhouse as the center’s new executive director. She has been serving as executive director of the Fox Theater and Spokane Symphony in Spokane, Wash., for the past nine years.
“We are excited that Brenda will be joining our team to manage our efforts to get the Opera House renovated and open for Newport,” said Alison Vareika, chairwoman of the Performing Arts Center’s board of directors.
“She knows first-hand the transformative power of a theater revitalization project, and has a proven record of excellence and innovation in creative programming for theaters and arts centers,” Vareika said in a prepared statement.
“Brenda’s depth of experience and her leadership credentials are exceptional. Her work managing the Fox Theater and Spokane Symphony, as well as her prior roles of manager of Finger Lakes Music Festival, the St. Louis Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Holland Area Arts Council brings a unique set of talents to direct the Opera House and Performing Arts Center.”
When voters around the state approved in November 2014 a $35 million state bond to assist arts and cultural organizations, the Performing Arts Center was allocated $4.2 million in matching funding from the bond.
Constructed in 1867, Newport’s Opera House is among the 10 oldest surviving opera houses in the country and the oldest surviving theater building in this state.
“After the planned reopening of the Opera House 150 years later in 2017, the revitalized Opera House Theater will once again present world-class arts and entertainment — dance, music, theatre, and much more — and will contribute to the economy by bringing year round jobs and renewed vitality to Washington Square and Newport’s historic downtown,” the announcement said.
In the new position of executive director, Nienhouse will direct and manage the restoration and revitalization of the Opera House. In Spokane, Nienhouse successfully rejuvenated a $30 million capital campaign and the Fox Theater restoration project. When the Fox reopened in November 2007, it received numerous awards including the prestigious National Trust for Historic Preservation’s National Preservation Award.
Vareika cited Nienhouse’s success in cultivating partnerships with local leaders, arts supporters and patrons and said it will be invaluable to the success of the Opera House theater.
Nienhouse brings more than 30 years of leadership experience in the arts, performing arts management and education to the project, the announcement said. Before her work in Spokane, she held executive positions with theaters, performing arts centers and nonprofit arts organizations, and worked with artists and musicians, arts councils and major orchestras. She has overseen arts facility projects, fundraising and capital campaigns, creative arts programming, and the development of community cultural plans.
“Her work and passion for bringing professional arts to a community and providing them with exceptional arts experiences has been recognized by leaders and patrons of the arts,” the announcement said. “Nienhouse has led numerous arts organizations, including serving as the chair of the Washington State Arts Commission.”
Nienhouse was selected after a national search conducted by the Performing Arts Center’s board and guided by its executive search firm, Arts Consulting Group, a national firm with headquarters in Los Angeles.
Patrick C. Shanahan, who arrived in Newport from Lewiston, Maine, in 1861, built the Opera House, for which the first curtain went up on Dec. 28, 1867. Patrick H. Horgan of Newport purchased an interest in the Opera House in 1910 and became the sole owner in 1917.
With the growing popularity of movies in the 1920s, the Opera House entered a new era. Patrick Horgan’s son, Harry R. Horgan, directed the conversion of the Opera House to a movie theater. The theater became a modern twin cinema complex in 1979, and a few years later it became a three-screen multiplex.
The Opera House restoration project began in 1999 and the Newport Performing Arts Center LLC purchased the building the next year. The theater’s 1970s-era facade was stripped away in 2002-03 and the original brick facade was restored at a cost of more than $1.5 million.