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TMCC Theater Faces Uncertain Future

By Bob Conrad
Dr. Karin Hilgersom, TMCC President.

Truckee Meadows Community College today refused to explain future plans for its theater and performing arts program.

Rumors have been circulating among TMCC faculty and students that the lease at the college’s Keystone Avenue theater may not be renewed after this academic year.

ThisisReno was told by three sources that the future of the Keystone location was in doubt and that President Karin Hilgersom “has assumed veto power over which plays the theater program produces, refusing to allow any play that might be considered ‘controversial.’ Her argument is that we can’t afford to upset any potential donors for a new theater building (which is at least five years out, and currently unfunded).”

TMCC spokesperson Kate Kirkpatrick refused to answer questions about the program, only to say that “the tips provided to you by (ThisisReno) readers are not accurate.”

The college’s Nell J. Redfield Foundation Performing Arts Center, at 505 Keystone Avenue, will apparently be leased through 2019, but what happens after that remains a mystery. Security for late night practices and performances by theater students is incredibly expensive, according to a source.

Dr. Karin Hilgersom, TMCC President.

Dr. Karin Hilgersom, TMCC President.

“TMCC is working with faculty to prepare for the upcoming season of theater productions and instructional courses,” Kirkpatrick said, again refusing to answer clarifying questions.

Hilgersom reportedly said in a faculty meeting today that she’s concerned about safety at the Keystone Avenue theater because a faculty member was once mugged there, and a cannabis dispensary is supposedly opening nearby.

The City of Reno said no future dispensary locations have been approved and that a new location would still be subject to approval by the state.

“The state is reviewing applications now, and we’ve been told that they plan to wrap that up and release rankings in December,” said city spokesperson Jon Humbert. “From there, the city will review applications sent to us and we’ll look at their proposals and locations.”

That information won’t be known until sometime next year, he added.

Sources said that Hilgersom told TMCC faculty today that the media were asking questions about the theater program and to not speak in support of the performing arts center to the press because it may jeopardize Board of Regents approval Friday of a campus culinary center, which could house a theater.

Those sources did not want to speak on the record for fear of reprisal by upper-level administrators.

“Many people are running scared,” one source said.

Hilgersom has come under fire by faculty who say that she is making major decisions without their involvement. At least one lawsuit has been filed against Hilgersom after humanities faculty member Thomas Cardoza was removed from his department chair position.

Another faculty member, Kyle Simmons, was fired after receiving a recommendation for permanent, tenured employment from a faculty committee.

Rick Trachok, Nevada Board of Regents.

Rick Trachok, Nevada Board of Regents.

Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Thom Reilly recommended that Hilgersom receive coaching for how to listen better and to address problems with faculty morale, as part of the president’s annual evaluation.

Regent Rick Trachok echoed those concerns:

“What I see from (Hilgersom’s) self-evaluation and from other conversations is primarily excuses rather than solutions,” he said. “On one hand, it’s being recommended the president receive a substantial raise. On the other hand, it asks the services of a coach be put into place.”

CORRECTION: Cardoza is a humanities instructor, not English, as originally reported.

UPDATE (8/22/2018): See Ron Marston’s comment below for additional information and context on this story.



Candace Garlock August 23, 2018 - 6:25 pm

Dear Readers,
My name is Candace Garlock and I am a Professor of Art at TMCC.
I’m concerned that the perception out there is that President Hilgersom just woke up one day and decided to arbitrarily close the theater. In fact, the need to move the theater comes from the faculty in that program long before Dr. Karin Hilgersom was our president. Since her arrival Fall 2016, she and her administrative team have been trying to come up with a solution to this need.

I thought I would share these three documents that can be found on the TMCC website:

First, if you go back to the Program Unit Review for Theatre (2010), it does state that the program is outgrowing the space.

I served on the Theater Program Unit Review committee in 2015 and we wrote that we needed a new space: http://www.tmcc.edu/media/tmcc/departments/assessment/documents/purs/liberalarts/asmt-perf-arts-self-study-2015.pdf
For example on Page 10, Factors Expected to Influence the Future, under the heading Facilities it is stated in writing, “ A major factor in the future of the Performing Arts Program is the establishment of a new facility to house the program. There are many different options currently being studied. For financial, safety and aesthetic reasons, the Administration does not want to renew the lease at the Keystone facility; therefore, a different venue must be found or built. Options include: a large Art Center constructed on the Dandini Campus, a smaller Black Box Performance Center constructed on the Dandini Campus, a new performance venue constructed south of town at the Redfield Campus, or the renovation and sharing of the Lear Theater in downtown Reno. All options are dependent on fund raising, donor interest, state support, student interest and community support. Appendix C shows the details of each one of these options which are being studied.”

I served on the Brainstorming Facilities Task Force (Faculty) in 2015 and the final report indicates that the need for a new theater space was one of our top priorities:

When President Hilgersom came on board in 2016, she was aware of the need for a new space and strived to find a solution within the Reno community. In the spring of 2017, she reached out to members of the art community including Executive Director of Artown Beth MacMillan, Mayor Hillary Schieve and City of Reno Councilmember Naomi Durer to see if there were any partnership opportunities. She asked members of the Visual and Performing Arts department faculty to participate on a task force consisting of TMCC student service members, administration, facilities and the Vice President of Finances to see if the Lear Theater would be a viable and sustainable option for TMCC. Unfortunately after our studies of the site and funding options, we voted not to go in that direction. President Hilgersom supported our decision.

In conclusion, we have some wonderful new faculty in Visual and Performing Arts and we are all excited to work through the challenges ahead and find a sustainable venue for our programs. I would like readers to know that we are not abandoning our Performing Arts Program. We are going to make it stronger, more innovative, more collaborative, MORE exciting!

Austin August 22, 2018 - 5:18 pm

Unfortunately, the reporting in your article is correct. President Hilgersom vetoed the musical, Rock of Ages, as the fall musical because it might turn off possible donors. Also, Hilgersom brought up this impending news article during the meeting yesterday and said that leaking to the press would ruin the chances of a performance space being constructed on campus.
One would think that transparency and “shared governance” wouldn’t require secrecy or the implied threat that not following her messaging on the issue would result in dire consequences for performing arts.

The president made the decision for closing the campus at Keystone without any input from performing arts staff or faculty, and most importantly, without careful consideration of the impact a decision like this would make for students and the program. In the meeting yesterday, President Hilgersom seemed to try to distance herself from the decision by saying that a final decision had not been reached although the former academic dean, the Vice Presidents of academic affairs and finance, and Hilgersom herself stated that it was a “done deal” to Mr. Marston, as he revealed in a department meeting yesterday.

The performance space at Keystone Square isn’t great and it isn’t in the best neighborhood. One faculty member was mugged a few years back at the location but I’d bet that there are MANY more criminal incidents on and around UNR’s main campus in a year than there have been at TMCC’s theater on Keystone Ave.

Ron Marston August 22, 2018 - 5:59 pm

Austin, my friend, much of what you say is true, but please contact me privately, so I can set you straight on the veto issue and the “done deal” comment I made. Those were my words, not the president’s as you assert. I was a part of the conversation regarding Rock of Ages, I have the emails. Your information must be second-hand and is not quite right.

Ron Marston August 22, 2018 - 3:28 pm

My name is Ron Marston and I am the Chair of the Visual and Performing Arts (VPARTS) department at TMCC. I’d like to set the record straight on a few elements of your article that are misleading and inaccurate. I am full-time tenured faculty and have been at TMCC for 20 years. I served as the Faculty Senate Chair (2014-2015), and am a member of the NFA. I’ve been the Chair of VPARTS since July of 2017. I am intimately familiar with the topic of this article.

First, the statement “…President Karin Hilgersom ‘has assumed veto power over which plays the theater program produces, refusing to allow any play that might be considered ‘controversial.’” is inaccurate. Your anonymous sources are not that well informed. I can tell you that the president never once has participated in or even weighed in on a decision about a theatre production since I’ve been Chair, nor prior to that as far as I know.

I was informed about a month ago of the president’s intent not to renew the lease at the Redfield Performing Arts Center (Keystone Theater) when it is up in September 2019. Costs and safety concerns were mentioned as reasons. I didn’t participate in the discussion or the decision, nor did any other faculty. The news was unexpected and probably caused some sleepless nights for some of my performing arts faculty when I informed them (certainly it has for me). However, we are now moving forward and looking at how to best serve the community and our students. The VPARTS department faculty and staff met yesterday (Aug 21) and had a productive and, yes, quite positive discussion about this. “Many people are running scared” is not an accurate characterization, at least of the folks in the department, in my opinion.

A task force has been formed, with the blessing of the president and vice presidents, comprised primarily of faculty, to come up with recommendations for teaching and production spaces for theatre, music, and dance. We will be exploring such things as alternate spaces on-campus, leasing other spaces, collaborations with local theater companies, and working with other teaching institutions.

It’s important to understand that the bulk of our theatre, music, and dance classes are not currently taught at the Keystone Theater location, and a closure will have little or no impact on those courses. However, the acting, technical theatre, children’s theatre, and other music and theatre production classes will be impacted, along with our ability to run theatre and musical theatre shows. We hope to find a space that will serve us as well as or better than the Keystone space has, in the coming year.

Ultimately, and I will speak for myself but I believe most of the VPARTS faculty will agree, a new facility on the main TMCC campus that will house programs in performing arts, hospitality, entrepreneurship and culinary arts (what the article refers to as “…campus culinary center, which could house a theater”, and what we refer to as EATS) is what I hope to see, and what I think President Hilgersom is working toward. This is the longer-term strategy that will serve our growing population much better than the existing space ever could. It will require the support of the community and the Board of Regents, and it’s not hard to understand why the president might be a little nervous about an article such as this one. The anonymous sources seem to have an agenda, and I don’t think it’s to support TMCC or the performing arts program or its students.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conrad August 22, 2018 - 3:48 pm

Thanks for the clarification and information, Ron. It’s a pity your administration choose to respond dismissively rather than setting the record straight when provided the opportunity not once but twice. Considering the varying sources, and information received, it appears the much larger concern is with lack of clear and transparent communication and representation in decision-making on campus, as your message appears to illustrate to some small degree.

Please let us know how we can keep supporting TMCC’s theater productions.

James Demestihas August 22, 2018 - 10:01 am

“a cannabis dispensary is supposedly opening nearby.” So?………….are there bars? Yeah…..all she has is excuses…………..

JRM August 22, 2018 - 7:42 am

Maybe it’s time for TMCC theater to move out of the Keystone location. There are way better locations to lease without needing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a new building. All this money spent on building new structures makes me suspicious of why tuition hikes keep happening.

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