Classical guitarist and entrepreneur Gerd Wuestemann will head the Acadiana Arts Council beginning May 19. After a four-month search, following the resignation of longtime director Buddy Palmer, president of the Arts Council board Ed Abell officially anounced Wuestemann’s hire today.
Wuestemann plans to hit the ground running. The biggest challenge for the new director will be to oversee building Phase Two of the Acadiana Center for the Arts, the performing arts theatre. Originally scheduled to begin construction in 2004-2005, bids came in too high. Then the hurricanes hit, bringing the project to a screeching halt. Post-hurricane, the project needed additional money because of escalating building costs.
Plans for the theatre have been reworked by Architects Southwest; currently the city of Lafayette and the state are in final discussions over completion costs, which could tally more than $13 million. Once that has been worked out, the project will be bid, and Wuestemann foresees groundbreaking in just a few months. “The biggest issue we’re faced with in creating a new performing arts center as an addition to the already existing gallery and work space, is that performing arts facilities are very cost intensive to operate. What that means for us is we need a strong capital fund drive as soon as we break ground. One of my big tasks will be to assure ourselves that we can finance operations and programing for the first couple of seasons of this new center. If we start with that before the doors open we’ll be ahead of the game.”
He has ideas for integrating all the arts under the umbrella of the Arts Council. “Most people don’t realize how big an organization this is,” he says, “or how much it contributes to the quality of life here in Acadiana. We encompass the performing arts, dance, the spoken word, music, and gallery space, as well as Louisiana Folk Roots and Louisiana Crossroads. My focus will be to increase visibility for the center.”
Wuestemann plans to reach out to other arts organizations state wide, as well as beyond Louisiana’s borders. “I want to create relationships and strong ties with the UL art museum, as well as museums in Houston, New Orleans and Jackson, so we can attract and produce larger shows that are bypassing Lafayette. I think we have the audiences here, we have the interest and the cultural wherewithal for something that's a bit broader and bigger. We don’t have the space in any one existing museum to hold the larger shows, but if we can combine our forces we’ll have the space and the buying power to host these larger exhibits.”
In his announcement this morning, Abell wrote that Wuestemann had the key components the board was looking for: “strong leadership; good communications skills; an obvious understanding of arts and artists; demonstrated business and finance skills; and a clear orientation towards fund raising and development.”
“What I’m hoping to do is combine a great sense of fiscal responsibility with a great sense of artistic responsibility,” Wuestemann says. “First and foremost, while it’s important to have a business sense to run and arts organization, it has to be grounded in a very strong artistic sensibility. It’s going to be a key thing for us to make it work. It's not just a business, we’re not trying to make any profit, we’re trying to balance our finances so we can provide great arts education programing.”
On a personal basis, Wuestemann says seeing the completion of an intimate performing arts space is something he has longed for since he moved to Lafayette. “When I moved to Lafayette, more than a decade ago, what was missing was a small, 300-plus seat performing arts space. A place for acoustic concerts, theatre, dance shows. Finally, this is on the horizon and I’m tickled that I’m going to be involved in making this a reality. That adds a great bit of a personal touch for me.”
A native of Germany, Wuestemann served as professor of guitar studies at UL’s school of music, while maintaining an international touring schedule. Recently, he has worked as special projects, marketing and sales director for Composite Acoustics, LLC, for whom he is now an advisor and shareholder. Currently, Wuestemann is a managing partner and producer for The Independent Weekly’s Corporate Challenge, while maintaining an active performing and recording schedule.