For Kate Francis, who worked as executive director of the Orpheum Theatre for four years, the venue was not only a historical landmark, but a source of unforeseen opportunity for herself and the Galesburg community.
Francis, a lifelong musician, graduated from Monmouth College and entered the corporate world, which she left almost immediately.
Entering the world of nonprofit fundraising, she later filled a position at Powell’s Hall in St. Louis, Mo. followed by a directorship at the Arizona Opera and a development position at her alma mater.
When Francis was expecting her first child, however, she wanted a travel-free position, but told herself that “’jobs aren’t just falling out of the sky in Monmouth and Galesburg.’”
She was proved wrong when the chairman of the Knox County Civic Center called and offered her a position at the Orpheum as executive director.
The Orpheum Theatre had already struck her as a “magnificent place … equally as grand, as gorgeous as” Powell Hall which was built by the same architect.
“It was fascinating that such a place still existed and was still functional in a city the size of Galesburg,” she said.
Her immediate taking to the venue did not blind her from its shortcomings, however.
“[Its] organization was fully entrenched in its history,” said Francis, noting that, while history is integral to the Orpheum, there still exists a need to pursue publicity and marketing in order to function as a “living, breathing, viable performing arts facility.”
One order of business was how to play a role in increasing Galesburg tourism.
In order to compete with other venues in Peoria, Quad Cities and even Chicago, the Orpheum staff “ did have to do things to help the bottom line and bring it into the modern age,” Francis explained.
The website was also changed so that the first thing a browser sees is a link to purchase tickets to new events, rather than a summary of the theater’s history. A tagline, “Be entertained,” was also created to let the community know that “it wasn’t just a standing, beautiful building,” Francis said.
Francis also focused on bringing in larger acts, such as multi-Grammy award winning jazz artists and the Moscow Ballet.
She began to see these efforts make a difference in how the Orpheum was perceived. Maintaining a presence in the community, advertising and obtaining sponsorships also made an impact.
Last year, Francis accepted a post as director of development with Jazz St. Louis in order to move closer to her extended family in Missouri, but she still recollects collaborations between her old venue and Knox fondly.
“I really appreciated … the Orpheum’s relationship with Knox College,” she said. “We were really beginning to do a lot more in terms of collaboration and I sincerely hope that that continues…and that maybe to some degree, the college will think of the Orpheum as an extension of itself.”