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Arts United celebrates selecting new president and dedicating ArtsLab black box theater

Saturday, January 18, 2014 - 11:42 am

Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne was celebrating inside the box Friday evening, using a VIP reception both to announce its new president and to show off its newly completed, $1.6 million ArtsLab black box theater.

The festivities took place inside ArtsLab, the addition built on the east side of the Auer Center for Arts and Culture, 300 E. Main St.

In a brief ceremony during the reception and building dedication, Arts United officials announced Susan Mendenhall, the organization's director of resource development, has been hired as its new president.

Mendenhall, a Fort Wayne native, starts her new job Monday, said Andy Boxberger, Arts United's board chairman.

She fills the vacancy created when longtime leader Jim Sparrow accepted a job in late summer as president and CEO of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County in North Carolina.

Arts United conducted a national search for a replacement, and received more than 40 applications. The search committee, which included Mendenhall, met more than 20 times, Boxberger said.

During those meetings, Mendenhall impressed committee members with her motivation, attention to detail, professionalism and other skills, he said.

“She kind of had a three-month interview,” he added.

As the committee began narrowing the field of applicants toward the end of the search process, Boxberger said a committee member asked Mendenhall if she would be interested in applying for the position. She was, and they encouraged her to do so.

They selected her as president after reviewing her resume and putting her through the full interview process, Boxberger said.

Mendenhall has worked at Arts United since 2010, he said. She started as a part-time employee during 2010 while she was in Bogota, Columbia; she has been full time since moving back to Fort Wayne in 2011.

She previously worked for the Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

In her role as Arts United president, Mendenhall will be tasked with overseeing Arts United's involvement in the continued development of a cultural district in downtown Fort Wayne, Boxberger said.

She also will be expected to build on the opportunities offered by the new ArtsLab theater, and to lead Arts United in raising funds to support its operation and to help fund its member arts organizations.

Arts United works to develop, coordinate and support arts and cultural organizations and programs in northeast Indiana. It owns the Auer Center; Arts United Center, 303 E. Main St.; and Hall Center for the Arts, 437 E. Berry St.

The VIP reception also celebrated the opening of ArtsLab, which is designed to accommodate innovative artistic programming including small theatrical productions, music and dance performances, temporary art exhibits, and educational programs.

An overhead technology grid gives performers a lot of flexibility with sound and lighting. Chairs and platforms, the latter of which can be used to create a stage or to hold seating, are movable and can be set up in a wide variety of configurations.

Work on ArtsLab started in late May. Work crews were putting finishing touches on the exterior Friday morning, but the building is done and ready for use, said Dan Ross, Arts United's director of community development. The only item not here yet is the platforms, which will arrive next week.

Friday's reception was to include examples what arts groups can do in the space, with brief performances by the Fort Wayne Ballet, Fort Wayne Civic Theatre and Fort Wayne Youtheatre.

Youtheatre will present the first public performance in the space when it performs “The People Could Fly,” a collection of folk tales from around the world, at 1 and 4 p.m. Jan. 25. Admission is $5 per person.