(Newport This Week, By Tom Walsh)
The Opera House Theater and Performing Arts Center board of trustees announced Wednesday, June 24, that Brenda Nienhouse of Spokane, Wash., has been selected as their new executive director.
Nienhouse, with more than 30 years of leadership experience in the arts, comes to Newport after nine years in a similar role at the Fox Theater of Spokane and the Spokane Symphony.
In that position, Nienhouse spearheaded a successful $30 million capital campaign and construction project that restored the Fox. When the rejuvenated theater reopened in November, 2007, her work received numerous awards— including the prestigious National Preservation Award bestowed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Nienhouse’s first task in Newport will be to lead a similar restoration project for the Opera House located at 19 Touro St. in Washington Square. The Opera House is currently closed and has no executive director.
“I am thrilled to be joining a community that recognizes the power of a theater restoration to enhance a city’s creative vitality and cultural vibrancy,” Nienhouse told Newport This Week. “Newport is already one of the most beautiful cities in America, and this town and this theater project excite me tremendously. I look forward to helping bring this beautiful theater back to life.”
“She was a perfect fit for us,” John Creighton, vice chairman of the board of trustees, told Newport This Week. “It was uncanny how she fit exactly what we were looking for. With her experience she had everything we needed.”
Trustees Chair Alison Vareika, added in a press release, “We are excited that Brenda will be joining our team to manage our efforts to get the Opera House renovated and open for Newport. She knows firsthand 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 described Nienhouse as possessing a “depth of experience” and said that “her leadership credentials are exceptional.”
According to a press release that announced Nienhouse’s plans to leave Spokane, she was “affectionately known as the ‘Mother of the Fox.’
Besides her role at the Fox Theater and Spokane Symphony, Nienhouse has also served as manager of the Finger Lakes Music Festival, the St. Louis Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Holland Area Arts Council. “Her work in cultivating partnerships with local leaders, arts supporters and patrons will be invaluable to the success of Newport’s Opera House Theater,” Vareika said.
The Newport center’s new executive director assumes her new job with a head start on a capital campaign thanks to Rhode Island’s voters approving a cultural facilities bond issue last November, from which $4.2 million was targeted for the Newport Opera House. The project also qualifies for federal and historic tax credits.
Last November the center’s board also launched another fundraising drive, a $5.2 million “community capital campaign” to match state funds. The Alletta Morris Mc- Bean Charitable Trust has already committed $750,000 for naming rights to the new stage. The board hopes to begin the reconstruction effort in early 2016.
Overall, the project is expected to cost between $14 million and $17 million and take four years to complete. The Opera House is one of the oldest surviving theaters in the United States.