Mention the Carson Center to Gavin Smith and his big, brown eyes light up almost as brightly as the lights on Broadway in New York City. Just nine years old, Gavin isn’t old enough to remember a Paducah without a performing arts center, but it would be difficult to find a bigger fan than Gavin of the programs and the staff who work there.
With all of his admiration for the Carson Center, it’s difficult for Gavin to pinpoint what he loves best. Therefore, when asked, he simply says, “I like everything!”
It’s true. Gavin loves just about everything about the Carson Center, from the Broadway series to the children’s programs presented through the Class Act Education Series. In fact, when Gavin discovers shows that he would like to see, he first does his research and then makes suggestions to Executive Director, Brian Laczko, of what he would like to see come to Paducah next.
While “Mr. Brian” isn’t always able to fulfill Gavin’s specific requests, his letters have an impact on just about everyone on the Carson Center’s staff. Because, while the center entertains thousands of guests each year, it’s children like Gavin who remind everyone of the great value the performing arts center has garnered for Paducah since opening its doors in February 2004.
“Seeing students' enthusiastic faces as they come off of the school buses, becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of the facility as they walk into the lobby, and, most importantly, watching their jubilant faces as they leave the theatre after a performance and seeing the unadulterated bliss on the faces of those young ones keeps me going,” Brian says.
Gavin, and students like him, are evidence that the Carson Center enriches the lives of area children and their families.
“So many children in our community have grown up coming to shows at the Carson Center,” says Mary Katz, Director of Education and Outreach. “Whereas we used to have to travel to Nashville or St. Louis to see shows like this, we are now able to see them right here in our own community.”
This year the Carson Center celebrates 10 years of bringing top-notch, live entertainment and arts education experiences to residents of Paducah and surrounding areas. Many individuals have played a role in making the center a success, including visionaries, David Perry and Ted Borodofsky, two gentleman whose passion inspired everyone to raise funds, both public and private, to build this $40 million performing arts venue. From the staff and volunteers, to the loyal patrons of the various shows featured at the Carson Center, people in the community want to see the Carson Center succeed.
“We’re all passionate about what goes on here,” says Lisa Lauck, Director of Marketing and Public Relations. “When you’re passionate about something, you do everything you can to make it successful, and the people who work here and those who live in this community want the Carson Center to succeed.”
Since opening its doors 10 years ago, the Carson Center has entertained just over 1.3 million people, representing every state in the nation. They have hosted such celebrity names and shows as Jerry Seinfeld, The Blueman Group, Mama Mia and Crosby, Stills and Nash.
“Sometimes people forget about the big names who have come here over the years,” says Lisa. “It’s amazing that this venue has been able to bring in some of the people we’ve hosted.”
What is also impressive is the fact that the center already operates “in the black,” a tremendous accomplishment for a venue housed in a town of approximately 25,000 people and within a couple of hours of larger performing arts venues.
Over the years, the Carson Center has expanded programming to include such series as the Broadway Series, the Carson Series, the Class Acts Education Series for pre-school through high school, the faith-based Myre Series and the Family Series. They look for opportunities to make the arts and the venue accessible to those in the region, no matter what their income.
“The staff at the Carson Center is very community-minded,” says patron, Kristy Lewis. “Though they bring big name shows here, there is nothing about the atmosphere that is stuffy or off-putting. They create an environment that adds value to the community, by providing opportunities that allow people to experience good talent.”
Kristy is not only a loyal patron of the Carson Center, but she’s also Gavin’s mother. Kristy and her parents have held season tickets since the Carson Center opened and, already, she instills the importance of supporting the arts and the community in her son.
Community involvement and its generosity is what has helped to keep the doors of the center open these last ten years.
"We could not have a successful performing arts center without the loyal audiences who come to our show, time after time, who take pride in their theatre, and support it,” Debbie Wattier, Director of Development, says. "One of my favorite quotes about the Carson Center came from Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills & Nash) when he told the audience, 'This is a beautiful hall; somebody really cares.' He's exactly right. You don't have a gorgeous place like this without people who truly care."