The Plaza Arts Center lost another director on Nov. 9 when executive director Roger Harrison resigned from the Center to pursue his goals in academia and earn his doctorate in Arts Administration from the University of Kentucky.
Harrison said about a decade ago, he was working on his PhD in public administration and wasn’t able to finish it and said he did not want that to happen again.
The onslaught of COVID has been particularly difficult on the Plaza and Harrison said he felt like this was a good time to move on as perhaps did development director Maggie Milner who resigned after Harrison to become the president of the Eatonton-Putnam Chamber of Commerce, replacing the venerable Roddie Ann Blackwell after 40 years of service.
“Since we didn’t have any events booked and I didn’t see us having anything booked until sometime next year, I just said it was a good time for me to go ahead and bow out around the holidays,” he said. “I wasn’t looking for a job when I got the Plaza job. I honestly didn’t need the money so it wasn’t hard to leave.”
Harrison said he expects to complete his doctorate in about two years or so and noted he is currently at the top of his class with a 97.97 grade point average.
Harrison admitted that 10 years ago, his focus wasn’t on finishing his doctorate but rather on the business end and chasing the money in the arts world down to Florida where he picked up a six figure salary he hadn’t had in a quite awhile.
“I let work get in front of me,” he recalled. “I chased the money at that time and it was the first six figure salary I saw in some time. There aren’t many universities in the country that offer Arts Administration so I had to go to Kentucky where I was offered a chance.”
As COVID persisted, Harrison said it became more and more difficult to fundraise at the Plaza, saying he began circling back to the same people who had made donations early in his one year tenure there, creating what he called an uncomfortable situation.
“The thing I am most proud of during my time there was raising enough money to have a new roof put on the building,” Harrison explained. “The Jimmy Buffett tribute band was good. Even though we had 400 people there, if it hadn’t been for Farmers and Merchants Bank sponsoring the show, the Plaza would have lost a lot of money.
“During my time there, I put the Plaza back on the map. Even though I leave during a time when COVID won’t let the doors be open, I leave it ready to open again so it is poised to launch as soon as things break. You can’t serve the community when you can’t let people in the building.”
In the next phase of his professional life, Harrison wants to be with an organization that gives grants but doesn’t apply for them. He recently had an interview with the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta to do some contract grant work while his studies continue.