Clay Center board discusses education, planetarium upgrade

The president of the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences excitedly told the center’s board of directors “We have a truck!” at the board’s quarterly meeting on Thursday.

A “Power Your Future” exhibit trailer will be attached to the large, blue semi, Clay Center President Judy Wellington said.

The mobile exhibit was funded in part by a grant from EQT Foundation last March. EQT presented a two-year, $500,000 grant to the Clay Center for its “Power Your Future” project. The grant was initially sponsored by Energy Corporation of America. The Benedum Foundation granted $194,000 over two years for the project.

The energy-focused mobile exhibit is geared toward middle and junior high school students. It will provide hands-on experience with science and technology.

Wellington said the bus has 11 different stations for students to explore and is expected to hit the road soon. It will travel to schools throughout the state.

Wellington also discussed new education partnerships with several schools, including Mary C. Snow Elementary School in Charleston, Milton Middle School in Cabell County and Wahama High School in Mason County.

Rachel Reynolds, a teacher at Mason County’s New Haven Elementary School, made a special presentation about the school’s Tiger Music Orff Ensemble. It recently traveled to Porte Alegre, Brazil, for the annual International Society for Music Educators World Conference. The Clay Center donated $25,000 to fund the trip.

The board president announced that the Clay Center in one of only nine American museums to be awarded a $78,000 Museums Connect grant this year from the U. S. Department of State and administered by the American Alliance of Museums.

“This is probably the most prestigious grant we have received. It’s a really big deal to us,” Wellington said the grant will allow 25 students at Wahama High School to connect with teens in Romania to study local music and culture through an international partnership between the Clay Center and the “Alexandru Stefulescu” Gorj County Museum in Targu Jiu, Romania.

Board Chairman Lloyd Jackson commended board member John Strickland for his efforts to upgrade the planetarium and projection equipment in the ElectricSky Theater.

“The planetarium part of our theater is exhausted. It is 10 to 11 years old...We feel confident we can put the money together [for the upgrade]. It’s just going to take some time...We believe we can make this theater profitable with the new equipment. This is the first step in the process,” Jackson said, referring to the New Revenue Project Committee’s request for an initial $600,000 to begin the planetarium technology upgrade of the predicted $2.5 million digital projection project upgrade.

“We are going to raise money to pay for this ultimately,” Strickland said.

Tom Kittredge, chairman of the development committee announced “Carnival” — the center’s main fundraiser — will be on Jan. 31 with a theme of “The Roaring 20’s.” He jokingly promised an evening of “unbridled decadence” and encouraged early ticket purchases.

Doug Skaff, chairman of program and education, announced the return of the Woody Hawley Concert Series on Oct. 4 with folk singer Peter Mayer. The series was on a one-year hiatus when the Clay Center decided not to partner with it last year. The series has secured private funding this year.

John Elliot, chairman of the West Virginia Symphony committee introduced Joe Tackett, the new president of the symphony. Tackett said he has been “amazed” by his first two months and that the staff of the symphony was undergoing a reorganization.

The Clay Center Board members in attendance included Charles M. Avampato (by phone), Alisa Bailey, Bobby Blakley, Sara Busse, Gaston Caperton, Ellen Cappellanti, Kelly L. Castleberry III, Fred Clark, Rachel Coffman, Stephen P. Dexter, Michelle Easton, John Elliot, Scott Freshwater, Timothy Gibson, Michael R. Graney, David J. Hardy, Tom Heywood, Lloyd G. Jackson II, Virginia King, Thomas Kittredge, Jane Kopp, Sallie McClaugherty, Kyle Mork, Nate Orders, Shawn Patterson, Brad Rowe, Sue Sergi, Douglas Skaff Jr., John Strickland, Sandra Thomas, Joanne Tomblin, Gayle Twigger-Shaw, Joan Weisberg and Judy Wellington. The Advisory Board members in attendance included Edward C. Armbrecht, Elizabeth Chilton, Horace Emery, Andrew Teeter and Newton L. Thomas.

Reach Judy E. Hamilton at, 304-348-1230 or follow @JudyEHamilton on Twitter.

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