WILKES-BARRE — Joe Nardone has booked more than 50 shows at the F. M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, and he said Marilyn Santarelli has been the best director there since it opened on Public Square in 1986.
Santarelli, 63, of Dallas, announced Monday she will leave her position that she has held for 15 years at the end of the year.
“I want to go to a show at the Kirby Center and not have to work,” she said. “I’m at a time in my life that I want to do something different. And the Kirby Center is in a good place — much better than when I took over 15 years ago.”
Nardone, who owns Gallery of Sound music stores, said Santarelli was always fair in dealings he had while booking shows.
“It was a pleasure to do business with a true professional,” Nardone said. “It’s not going to be easy to replace her. I can only hope they find somebody close to her qualifications.”
During Santarelli’s tenure, the F.M. Kirby Center focused on improving programming content while ensuring financial stability and furthering the organization’s multidimensional mission. Programming initiatives include an arts education program and the Signature Series, which supports opera, dance and straight theater. The number of performances at the Kirby Center has grown from 10 to more than 70 performances a year.
Praise from Genetti
Gus Genetti, a current board member and a longtime supporter of the Kirby, said the organization has had much success during Santarelli’s leadership.
“She has had a great run; she did a great job,” Genetti said. “She put the Kirby Center on the map.”
Genetti has served on the Kirby Center’s building committee and he said Santarelli has secured needed grants and funding to keep the building in good shape.
“It’s going to be difficult to replace her,” he said. “But the executive committee believes there are good people out there that can provide leadership needed for the center.”
Santarelli said the Kirby Center’s board of directors has been “wonderfully supportive” and the staff is loyal and skilled.
“And we have a community that is so completely supportive of what we do,” she said.
Santarelli said the board has appointed a search committee to seek her replacement. She said she expects an easy transition for her successor.
The Kirby opened on Friday, Sept. 19, 1986.
In a release issued by the Kirby Center, it was noted Santarelli has served as a member of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts since 2003 and facilitated the Kirby Center’s hosting of the prestigious Governor’s Awards for the Arts in 2006.
Santarelli oversaw more than $7 million in capital improvements that included the completion of a façade project, installation of an electronic marquis, a remodeled box office, energy efficient lighting and the complete restoration of the main lobbies and theater.
According to the release, during Santarelli’s tenure:
• The center’s endowment doubled from $1 million to $2 million.
• The center has been instrumental in the revitalization of downtown Wilkes-Barre and continues as a force in economic development.
• Staff at the center has grown to 16 full-time employees, 20 part-timers and 100 volunteers. A range of up to 40 local union stage hands are employed at each show.
• It is estimated the center annually impacts the local economy by $5 million.
“Marilyn has worked tirelessly to fulfill the strategic initiatives of the Kirby,” said John Nackley, CEO and president of Inter-metro Industries and chairman of the Board of Directors at the center. “Under Marilyn’s leadership the F.M. Kirby Center has experience unprecedented growth and has been reinvented so that today this historic landmark is a beacon of light in arts and entertainment in Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Santarelli said she has mixed feelings about her decision, saying that the Kirby has been her life for 15 years.
“But there comes a time in every person’s life that tells you maybe it’s time for new challenge,” she said.
According to the most recent IRS Form 990 covering the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011, Santarelli was paid $105,000 annually.
Nardone said his next show at the Kirby — Dec. 14 — will be a Christmas Doo Wop show.
“This show will be one of the last under Marilyn’s leadership,” Nardone said. “She’s always made it easy to put these shows on.”