Pebbles Wadsworth named board president at Jamestown Arts Center
It has been more than five years since two friends dreamed up an idea while walking on a local beach. The culmination of that vision was the Jamestown Arts Center, which opened its doors two years after the stroll across the sand.
Since then there has only been one board president at the arts center: Kate Petrie, one of the organization’s founders. That changed recently with the appointment of Pebbles Wadsworth to the post.
Wadsworth is a fourth-generation Jamestowner who has returned home after establishing a distinguished reputation as an arts administrator in California and Texas. According to Wadsworth, the change at the top of the board was Petrie’s decision.
“Kate felt it was time for new leadership, and it was time for the founding mothers to send it off to college,” Wadsworth said. “They gave birth to it, they nurtured it, and now it’s ready for its next phase.”
At the age of 28, Wadsworth became the executive director of the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA and helped to build it into a world-class organization. She then became the first female president of the International Society for the Performing Arts.
Next up for Wadsworth was a 16-month stint at the University of Texas where she brought a struggling program out of bankruptcy. She helped it reach a point where it became comparable to the program she built at UCLA.
While she was at Texas, Wadsworth noticed students from rural towns suffered in comparison to peers who had grown up in cities. They lacked cultural experience. She decided to refocus her career and stepped down from her university job.
Wadsworth formed an advisory board. She established a prototype for bringing the arts to a rural setting when she moved a historic Victorian house to her ranch in Smithville, Texas.
It took seven months to transform the house into a concert hall. It was known as the Cottage of the Arts. Artists received the proceeds from the door, while all other revenue helped community organizations. Every concert sold out, bringing thousands of dollars to the community.
According to Wadsworth, it was her wide range of experiences that led to her selection as president of the Jamestown Arts Center board.
Wadsworth was born in Newport, and her great-grandfather built the house in Jamestown known as The Boulders on Newport Street. She spent summers on the island as a child, and as she grew up, she decided she needed to get away from the East Coast and explore the world.
“I always knew that at some point I would come back to Jamestown,” she said. “Not as a summer person, but as somebody for whom this is their home. I wanted to do something for Jamestown and I’m passionate about the arts.”
Wadsworth made one request of the board before accepting post: to make local realtor and longtime board member Dianne Grippi her vice president.
“I wanted her energy, her knowledge of the community, her honesty, her directness, and her team play,” she said.
Wadsworth said the arts center has been an overachiever, skipping nursery school, grade school and high school, and trying to move right on to college. Part of her vision for the center is to help determine what the institution will be when it grows up, and how it is going to get there. She wants to avoid spreading the center too thin.
“My mantra is that everything the JAC does has to be of the best quality,” she said.
According the Wadsworth, it is the programming that drives the center, and getting the right programs is a collaborative effort. The board and staff determine how to reach the most people while also keeping the institution financially sound.
The programming will include exhibits, performing arts and educational outreach. While the arts center does those things now, Wadsworth said it has to be a cohesive effort with everyone working together in an efficient manner. She says it will ensure the center has funds in the future to present programs that are worth taking a risk on.
“I see the arts center bringing the world to Jamestown,” she said. “Getting people out of their comfort zones. We can become very isolated here. That starts with young people.”
Toward that vision, Wadsworth wants to get more young people involved at the center, and not just as concertgoers or students. She wants the younger generation to become part of the organization, serving on the board and the various committees.
Wadsworth said she was impressed by what the center has achieved in a short time. That is one reason she accepted the presidency. She cited the classes (both during the school year and at summer camps), the exhibitions, the performing arts, and the film presentations as some of the things the center does well.
In the fall, the arts center will collaborate with the Heifetz International Music Institute, where Wadsworth is a board member. The top string players in the world teach at the institute, and the arts center will serve as a prototype to take Heifetz’s programs on the road.
For a week in October, a quartet of musicians will be in residency at Lawn School where they will work with students. There will be a concert at the school and one at the center.
“It’s going to notch up the offerings, and will set a tone for future offerings,” she said. “I believe in exposing young people at a young age to the very best.”
While Wadsworth feels the center was successful in reaching out to the people who were able lift it off the ground, she said under her presidency there will be an outreach to the entire community. She acknowledged the arts center is perceived by some as an elitist organization, and she is determined to change that perception.
“The arts center has not been successful at breaking down some barriers, but it will be,” she said. “That is one of my top goals – to get rid of that perception. And we will.”