BY PETER DORFMAN
“The Buskirk-Chumley Theater is not just a business, it’s a soapbox for the community,” Danielle McClelland declares. That’s been her vision since November 2001 when she was named executive director of BCT Management, the nonprofit organization that runs the East Kirkwood landmark.
Owned by the City of Bloomington, the former Indiana Theatre, with its iconic dogbone sign and art nouveau interior, hosts eclectic entertainment events, many of them local. Touring acts have included everyone from Joan Baez to Ani DiFranco to The Irish Rovers.
McClelland, 50, grew up in Topeka, Kansas, but her family moved to Bellevue, Washington, when she was 14, just as Microsoft was taking off. “I was surrounded by young people who had the hubris to think they could change the world,” she recalls. But instead of getting swept up in technology, McClelland pursued the arts.
After graduating from Lewis & Clark College in 1990, she moved to Portland, Oregon, where she ran a small theater company called Hundredth Monkey Collective in a space called Howling Frog. It was her debut as an impresario.
She’s lived in Bloomington since 1996 when her partner arrived for graduate school at Indiana University. She was the program director for the Columbus (Indiana) Area Arts Council when the newly created BCT Management hired her on September 11, 2001. “I negotiated my contract over the phone as the Twin Towers were falling,” McClelland remembers.
At that time, the Buskirk-Chumley office consisted of two broken desks and a disconnected phone. A Chicago touring company was booked for a one-week run of The Vagina Monologues. But the City had guaranteed a subsidy of up to $130,000 a year for two years, so BCT Management had some breathing room.
Today, the theater has ongoing relationships with Cardinal Stage Company and the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra, and is rented annually by Lotus World Music & Arts Festival, Limestone Comedy Festival, PRIDE Film Festival, and other organizations and events.
Another revenue generator is the BCT Box Office, which sells tickets for events at venues all over Bloomington, and also functions as a gift shop and downtown visitors center. “We serve visitors as well as ticket buyers,” McClelland says. “They’re often the same people.”