After 25 years of service, J. Bryan Lake, 62, is retiring from the organization that he founded, the Piney Woods Fine Arts Association (PWFAA). The organization has evolved and adapted to a unique environment behind the "Pine Curtain." There are many things they can point to proudly that had a visible effect on the area; school programs, art camps, free summer concerts in the park, statues and filling up area hotels and restaurants before each performance. He is replaced by current Associate Director, Glenn Barnhart.
A Short History: When Lake began as the Executive Director of PWFAA in 1991, its inaugural season offered only five productions. The new Board of Directors pooled their resources and signed a bank note for $20,000 for the first season. The most exciting production was the self-produced "Something’s Afoot," directed by Bryan’s wife, Rena Newton.
In 1991, when the PWFAA first organized, the local arts scene was virtually non-existent; at the time the Ritz had been "closed for repairs" for three years, there was no Camp Street Café and very little theater or choir in local schools. Not even a video store was in the county.
The city leaders built the building known as the Crockett Civic Center; however there were no kitchen facilities, stage, curtains, seating of any kind, sound system or stage lighting and it was at the end of a dirt road from the loop. Before the Crockett Civic Center was even built in 1987, there was much local disagreement and legal and local haranguing about it being a "multi-purpose" building or an "auditorium." The space where the Chamber and Crockett Economic Development offices are now, sat completely empty for years. Though well intended the building project ran out of money to finish and was left as a well-built shell. PWFAA applied for and received grants to fund the installation of the seating, the professional theater sound system and stage lighting. PWFAA also built the stage in use today. Thanks to J. Bryan Lake’s vision and the Piney Woods Fine Arts Association, the Civic Center is now a professional performing arts center and event venue for all in Houston County to use.
Long time PWFAA board treasurer Deborah Blackwell said, "At the time, because there was no money and some community resentment about the building being built in the first place, the Civic Center was left unfinished until PWFAA came along, through grants and fund-drives partnering with the Civic Center Ag Arena Committee, Lions Club and Rotary Club, since 1992 we helped raise close to a million dollars."
Blackwell said, "In the first four years we turned the Civic Center from a large concrete room to a working performance space. And then, with the chamber leading the way, local folks raised money to PAVE the parking lot."
Glenn Barnhart, PWFAA incoming Executive Director, said, "We have tried to present a balance of music, dance, family attractions, international attractions and some contemporary or nontraditional performances. Bryan has been teaching me what he knows about marketing, fundraising, selecting performances, negotiations with the artists and their agents and finding sponsors for each event. Bryan’s magical touch is indelibly etched into the mortar and bricks of the East Texas arts scene. His contribution to arts education in area schools is immeasurable."
Glenn will often quote Bryan with, "The reduction of the arts in public schools has created a generation of students who don’t know how to visualize or create. Our Arts-in-Education programs strive to educate, enrich and entertain the schoolchildren of East Texas through exposure to the visual and performing arts."
Glenn Barnhart, the new Executive Director will oversee an annual budget of over $400,000, presenting and producing the 60 plus events annually in community and education programming.
Over the years, Lake has booked controversial acts such as last season’s Carvanserai, Vox Lumiere’s – Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas to name a few. "What’s PG in Houston is seen as R here, so we have had a few bumps in response to some of the programming. What did well in Houston or Dallas might not fare as well in rural East Texas, but it seemed, with education as our major mission, the right thing to do … besides as is said many times, ‘all roads lead to Crockett’ put us in a location for routing with the larger presenters."
Some of the other noteworthy acts brought to Houston County since 1991 include Willie Nelson, Marcel Marceau, Clint Black, The Smothers Brothers, Merle Haggard, Three Dog Night, Tammy Wynette, Oak Ridge Boys, Lyle Lovett and the Temptations plus hundreds more.
Lake plans to be around, continuing to work with the PWFAA staff to help ensure things run smoothly in his absence and during Barnhart’s transition as the new Executive Director.
Dr. J Patrick Walker, longtime PWFAA board president had this to say, "We know Bryan deserves his retirement. We also know he will be a hard act to follow. Glenn will have his work cut out for him to carry PWFAA into the future. Bryan leaves a legacy that proves the organization can be financially successful, while still achieving its artistic mission. PWFAA has been, is, and will continue to be Bryan Lake. Piney Woods Fine Arts is Bryan’s vision, and the PWFAA Board will continue to rely on Bryan’s input for the future. One of Bryan’s biggest contributions is the education of our youth. Thanks in large part to his work, I’m incredibly optimistic about the future of the arts in our part of East Texas and we will move forward with a commitment to build on what we have".
Barnhart added, "To not have Bryan’s 40 plus years of experience in the office will be a challenge, but I have been watching and learning from him for three years now, this move has always been in the works."
Lake said, "This major milestone in my life has been like approaching a mountaintop from where I can look down below to the struggles and accomplishments of years past, and remember all those that sacrificed to make it work. "It's important to know when the time's right to make a change," Lake said. "I know my baby is in good hands with Glenn."
Barnhart said, "This organization will always be a civic forum where people of very different backgrounds can come together to discuss what they have in common and what separates them … with the arts as the conduit. The arts provide a chance to bring people together, to share in the excitement that comes with experiencing something new, something familiar, and something forgotten. It’s my goal to ensure that mission will be carried into the next 25 years."
In an official statement Lake said, "I am extremely grateful for having the opportunity to have led this incredible organization and for the long time and new friendships I have formed with the many good people who have helped along the way.
"Over the past 25 years we have been blessed with board leaders that have done whatever it takes." In addition to our members, donors, sponsors and volunteers that contribute generously … below I have made a list of some whose support has helped keep us going. I am undyingly grateful for belief in the power of the arts through their contribution."
Past (and present) Board members include : Tim Allen, Doug Buchman, Jay Barksdale, Harold Dean, Rae Pat Dean, Griselda Denman, Tommy Driskell, Deborah Porth Blackwell, Ansel Bradshaw, Deborah Brantley, Jake Caprielian, Karla Ceccoli, Jeana Culp, Thea Daigle, Debbie Fainstein, Jacque Fleming, Veronica Gagne, Jim Jeffries (Jim a nationally known sculptor who passed away in 2005. The summer arts camp he established in 1992 is named in his honor.), Eunice Martinez-Kitchen, Pat Krischke, Bill Kuhn, Jim Land, Matthew Land, Debbie McCall, Beth Meriwether, Patty Meyer, Shirley Michka, Shirley Murray, Roberta Murray, Rena K. Newton, Dr. John Patrick Walker, Ann Walker, Daphne Session, Janae Whitehead, Edwardlene Fleeks Willis, Ph. D, Mirron Willis, Celeste Tanner, Theresa Ramsey, Dr. Frank Santa-Cruz and Dr. John Stovall.
And always with us…Johnny Babb, Tom Bradshaw, Judge Sarah Clark, Bea Whitfill, The entire Walker Family, and all those that donate money and volunteer time above the price of a season membership.
Finally, I want to thank my family and personal friends for all their support and love during my years with The Piney Woods Fine Arts Association, my children Adam and Claire, and the beautiful and oh so talented wife Rena who have been patient listeners and advisors. My sister Elsie and mother Joanne have offered sound counsel on many issues. The same is true for my close friends, especially Dr. Joe and Carrie Grams, Mike Maiden, Deborah Porth Blackwell, Patty Meyer, and of course Patrick Walker.
I have undoubtedly but inadvertently omitted significant contributors to the PWFAA and the people I care about… after all 25 years is a long time to remember. Please forgive me for that but know that you are in my heart.
Thanks for the COOL JOB! With love and affection to all,
J. Bryan Lake, Executive Director Emeritus, PWFAA