Clayton Center executive director announces retirement

Jan. 30, 2013
Contact: Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications

After serving as executive director of the Clayton Center for the Arts since 2008, Robert Hutchens announced Tuesday that he will be retiring at the end of this fiscal year, May 31, 2013. Hutchens has agreed, however, to aid in the transition to new leadership by serving as executive director emeritus.

“I’m pleased with the many successes of the Clayton Center and am proud to have been a part of laying its foundation,” Hutchens said. “In my next phase of life, I look forward to traveling and possibly living overseas again. I have always had the idea that I would live and work in a part of the world I haven’t seen, either on my own or with the Peace Corps, and I would like to do this while I’m still young enough and have the energy.”

Constructed through a partnership of the College, the cities of Maryville and Alcoa, and state and federal governments, the $47-million Clayton Center for the Arts was envisioned to celebrate the art and culture of the Appalachian region by serving as a venue for local musicians, performers and artists. Its name recognizes the support given the project by Clayton Homes, the Clayton Family Foundation and key volunteer Kevin Clayton.

Faculty and classes for the College’s Fine Arts Division moved to the Center in January 2010; the Center’s grand opening was held March 25-29, 2010.

“Robert has been vital to the startup and development of operating policies and practices for the Clayton Center, and we are grateful for the work that he has done,” said Holly Jackson-Sullivan, vice president for advancement and community relations at Maryville College, the office charged with overseeing the Clayton Center for the Arts. “Over the last three years, the Clayton Center has become known as a high-quality venue for concerts, theatrical performances, art exhibits, arts festivals and camps, and meetings and fundraising events for organizations and businesses. The Clayton Center is an extremely busy place.”

Jackson-Sullivan acknowledged that the executive director’s job has had its challenges, as the local economy struggled out of the 2008 recession and as both the College and the community figured out what the Clayton Center should be and what audiences wanted.

“We have learned a lot in these first years, and I believe the Clayton Center is well-positioned to become the ‘regional hub for the celebration of the arts’ by 2015, as its vision statement reads,” she said.

A retirement reception for Hutchens will be announced at a later date.

Hutchens pleased with Center’s accomplishments

Hutchens, who performed in his first play at Maryville College in 1965 and has since been a cast member or director of more than 30 plays in the old Wilson Chapel/Theatre Complex or the Clayton Center for the Arts, said that when he applied for the job in 2008, he was attracted to the opportunity to be a part of an institution that was dedicated to the creation of the arts.

“I had ‘created’ in the arts most of my life, but to join in the creation of an arts center was different,” he said. “If it had been any other kind of building or organization, I would have had no interest, but I believe in art. I think it is so much more powerful and so much more embedded in our lives than people recognize. It makes life worth living; it’s beautiful and inspiring.”

Hutchens admitted that before construction on the Clayton Center was completed, one of his biggest fears was that people wouldn’t come to events held there.

“Really, it seems impossible to me now that I could ever have been so dumb about that,” he said. “People were rushing the doors the first minute they had a chance.

“If anybody has any doubt that there was a need for the Clayton Center, he or she should ask to look at the schedule of events that occur in a month,” he continued. “Where did all these things happen before the Clayton Center opened? In places farther away, more expensive, less beautiful and less equipped. And a lot of things occurred nowhere because it was the presence of the Clayton Center that made people think of them.”

The executive director said he is very pleased with how the Clayton Center has met the needs of the partners (Alcoa, Maryville and Maryville College) and proud of the level and variety of art, entertainment and other activity that occurs at the facility weekly.

“The quality of it has been incredible to me – whether it was a world-class pianist or teenage banjo player. Even if you couldn’t hear a note, could only watch their fingers flying, you’d know you were in the presence of genius and rare dedication. If somebody needs reassurance that being human is something to be proud of, they need to spend time at the Clayton Center.

“That’s been the overwhelming joy of being here.”

Hutchens said the Clayton Center “has its hooks” in him, and he plans to continue to act and direct on its stages in retirement. And he’ll be visible as an audience member and arts patron.

“I have learned to love a lot of art and entertainment that I’d never been exposed to before, and the best place, the nearest place – and usually the place with the best price – is the Clayton Center,” he said.

Job description will change

Jackson-Sullivan said that the College will use this opportunity of executive leadership change to implement a new staffing model that will unite Clayton Center operations and the College’s Corporate Sales & Events services under one general manager.

Corporate Sales & Events handles space rentals on campus, as well as bookings for camps and conferences.

“By uniting these two departments under one general manager who reports directly to the College’s president, the College and the Clayton Center will be able to better ensure that the customer experience is a priority and that the goals of regional leadership in the arts are met,” said Dr. Tom Bogart, Maryville College president. “We will be looking for someone who has a proven track record of success in the hospitality industry, is entrepreneurial in spirit and can provide strong leadership for the staff members in these areas.”

Once the position is finalized, a national search will begin. Interested applicants may forward a resume and cover letter to the Human Resources office. (Please note “General Manager” as the subject line.)

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.