PUTNEY -- Next Stage Arts Project Board Chairman Billy Straus says he is not that surprised at the organization's rapid success because he didn't really know what to expect when he and a group of Putney residents decided to start a new non-profit arts group.
It's only been about two years since Next Stage Arts Project was started to help save the former United Church of Putney building on Kimball Hill and bring music, film, speakers and arts to downtown Putney.
The Putney Historical Society took over the historic building in 2009 after the United Church of Putney disbanded.
In 2011, Next Stage Arts Project formed to bring programming to the building at 15 Kimball Hill.
Now, Next Stage is continuing to move forward by hiring its first executive director to lead the organization.
Westminster West resident Maria Basescu has been hired as a full time director of Next Stage Arts Project, marking what Straus says is an important milestone in its steady march forward.
"We've covered a lot of ground in two years," Straus said. "We did a strategic plan recently and when we realized all of the things that we hope to accomplish it became apparent that we needed to hire an executive director."
Straus credited the devoted group of volunteers that has been able to move their vision forward over the past two years.
When the group got together recently to think about the challenges ahead to raise money and continue improving the historic building, to book and promote shows, and to expand the art programs with local schools, Straus says a decision was made to find the funding to bring on an executive director.
"We want to bring in paid executive leadership to move the thing forward," said Straus. "There are so many moving pieces and we want to remain viable and sustainable."
Basescu has been a board member at Next Stage Arts Project and Straus says she has been a force in helping get the organization to where it is today.
"A lot has happened fast with this little project," Basescu said. "We have relied on the volunteer energy of the board and if we really want this to become an enduring part of the community and develop long-term programming we need executive leadership."
Her salary is supported with a two year matching grant from the Fresh Sound Foundation.
Basescu says when the board first started talking about bringing on an executive director she did not imagine she might be the one to take on the job.
She has worked in communications and also is president of Annapurna concerts, a cultural events production company.
As it became clearer that Next Stage was going to hire a director Basescu said she decided that it was good time for her to take on a professional challenge to help strengthen the organization
"I'm very excited about this. It has been a natural fit for me to work here," she said. "I have tremendous respect for the people on the board, artistically and professionally. They are all committed to living in the area and to bringing great art here."
As board member Basescu worked to expand the group's work in area schools and over the past year Next Stage Arts Project has collaborated with Putney Central School, The Putney School, Grammar School, Landmark College and Vermont Academy.
Basescu said she is going to focus on increasing the group's presence in the schools, and helping to bring world class musicians, artists and writers to work with the students.
The group also has plans to continue improving the building, including upgrading the equipment in the performance space and weatherizing the structure.
Next Stage Arts Project works closely with the Putney Historical Society to ensure that both groups stay strong.
"It's amazing what we have been able to accomplish so far. We have put a lot of time and energy and thought into how we collaborate with other organizations," Basescu said. "Everyone sees that we have a great opportunity to do more of that work."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.