Hamilton’s Fitton Center exec loves variety of his role

MacKenzie-Thurley became a U.S. citizen this year.

Executive Director Ian MacKenzie-Thurley of the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton wears a lot of creative and innovative hats. He a hands-on guy that loves the arts, and he’s committed to being a part of thriving community.

His energy is contagious. MacKenzie-Thurley assumed the executive director’s role in the spring of 2015.

Lately, he’s been spending time preparing for the third annual “Center of it All” 2017-18 Season Launch party, which will be held at the Fitton Center on Friday, Aug. 18, from 5 to 9 p.m.

At the Season Launch event, guests will opportunity to experience everything the Fitton Center has to offer — from the basement to the ballroom, including art galleries, exhibitions and classes to event spaces and live entertainment offerings. The event is free and open to the public. More details are available at www.fittoncenter.org.

We spoke with Ian recently to find out what motivates him. Those from the community, who haven’t met Ian yet, will also have an opportunity to greet him at the Season Launch party.

Q: It’s been a milestone couple of years for you and your family. What are a few of the highlights?

A: I'm originally from Sydney, Australia. I moved to Hamilton, Ohio, from London, England. I tell people we moved to Hamilton by accident, because we were here on vacation. My wife, Kelly, is a Hamilton native. She grew up here. She went to Cleveland Elementary School, Wilson Middle School, and she's a graduate of Hamilton High School. So, her family and our family is here, but we came for vacation, and we ended up staying. We now live in Hamilton's historic German Village. We were fortunate to work with the CORE Fund in Hamilton to renovate and revitalize our home from the 1870s, just off of Marcum Park. Marcum Park is an incredible new park here in downtown Hamilton, which we love.

The community feel in German Village is fantastic. It’s unique, and we’ve enjoyed landing here. We feel blessed to be here and it’s been a wonderful experience. Renovating a house, that’s always a challenge, but it’s been absolutely worth it.

I became a United States citizen on January 27 of this year. That was overwhelming, not so much from the citizenship aspect, but the response from the community.

Q: Talk about your role at the Fitton Center. What does an average day look like for you?

A: There is no typical day at the Fitton Center. That's one of the great joys. We have so much going on — on so many different levels. My job encompasses everything from programming, putting on shows and artists we are working with, and so much more. I have an incredible team that I get to work with at the Fitton Center. Everyone cares about what they do and they are concerned about making sure the place looks fantastic, and is well looked after, that we have tremendous things going on that are well-promoted throughout the community, and that we're able to apply for or obtain funding, such as our development fund.

Q: Why did want to serve as executive director and what talents do you bring to the position?

A: As far as why, I was at a point in my life when I had a combination of skills, both in terms of artistic skills and administrative skills, because there's a balance there with the job as executive director of an arts center. Over the years, working all over the world, I had gained skills as a stage director, producer and as a teacher that allowed me to find that balance. I arrived at the Fitton Center at a time when my predecessor was retiring, and I have always felt like I was at the right place at the right time for me to be able to contribute to the Fitton Center, and also to Hamilton. And, I've found great support in that, not just at the Fitton Center, but throughout the entire community – with the City, with our partners like Pyramid Hill, the YMCA, Miami Valley Ballet Theatre, RiversEdge, Butler Philharmonic, and so many more. I've found great strength and support for new ideas and new energy that's in concert with the community and other community organizations. For me, that's been a real joy.

One of the big things is I have a strength in networking, and in true collaboration, where both parties can take something away from it, in a positive way, to build something better than we could do on our own. Also, I have strong artistic vision, both personally and for the Fitton Center, and I think that’s been shared by the (Fitton Center) board and the staff as we’ve looked to expand the Fitton Center’s programming and explore new things both at the Fitton Center and out in the community. I enjoy that challenge of keeping the base audience interested and engaged, and on top of that, expanding and developing a new audience at the same time. We’ve had a lot of success with that, but it takes constant attention. But, it’s fun putting a show on in the theater, having kids running around, smiling, singing and dancing during Fitton Family Fridays. It doesn’t matter how long your week has been, Fitton Family Fridays will make everything alright.

Q: You’re a hands-on executive director, and you’re involved in all aspects of the Fitton Center. You’re in the midst of everything that’s going on in a positive way. What keeps you motivated and how have things worked for you?

A: When you start a new job, you need to get a feel for your organization, working with your staff and building trust, and that's gone both ways. For me to be able to trust in the staff, and for them to trust that I'm going to support them. It goes both ways, for me to be able to drive an artistic energy and a direction for us, but also to give my staff the ability to shine and to bring new ideas and energy to the projects that they're working on. It's also important for me to be on the frontlines, talking to our audiences and members, so they are engaged. I want to find out what they like, what they may not like and what they want more of, or would like to see. I have a lovely office, but I can only find that out by being in the foyer, in the ballroom or in the theater, and by meeting and greeting people.

Contact this contributing writer at gmwriteon@aol.com.

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