New director values education, service

Published 10:27 pm Saturday, March 7, 2009

Although he’s been on the job only two weeks, Paul Lasakow already is applying his philosophy to his new position as the director of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

“Shows and a building do not an arts center make,” he told the Suffolk City Council at its meeting Wednesday. Lasakow was hired to replace inaugural director Michael Bollinger, who resigned in December.

“I’ve been a creature of the theater since I was a young child,” he said in an interview at his office, which is still lined with the black chalkboards of Suffolk High School, the building’s former use. “Very early on, I had a deeply instilled appreciation for the arts.”

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His early admiration of the arts grew into his career. Lasakow received his degree in fine arts at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, one of the nation’s few “work colleges,” where working a part-time job on campus is mandatory. Following his graduation, the Alabama native spent a decade in Atlanta, Ga., as a freelance production manager and tour manager.

Soon, Lasakow decided that being a venue manager was a better match for his skills. He moved to Virginia and spent seven years as manager at Norfolk’s Chrysler Hall, and then served at both the George Roper Performing Arts Center at Tidewater Community College and the Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.

When he heard about the job opportunity at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, Lasakow knew he was the right fit.

“I had known about the Suffolk Center for quite some time, as a patron and in association with events here,” Lasakow said. “Of all the similar organizations, this is the only one that stresses visual arts, performing arts and art education equally.”

For Lasakow, education and service are essential parts of an arts center’s mission.

“It’s how we educate the next generation of both artists and patrons of the arts,” he said. “It falls back into the philosophy that education is an inseparable mission from an organization such as ours.”

To fulfill that mission, Lasakow already has plans to expand educational offerings and reach out to schools, both public and private, in Suffolk and surrounding communities.

He also wants to increase the service-mindedness of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

“All arts organizations should consider themselves a service organization,” he said. “What I want to do now is listen to the community. Are they getting what they want? If not, let’s serve them.”

Lasakow also is excited about taking the helm of the historic building. Built in 1922 as Suffolk High School, the arts center maintains many of its original characteristics, including staircases with grooves worn by thousands of footsteps.

“We can feel in climbing the steps that … there is a very tangible history in the building,” he said.

The intimate acoustics of the Birdsong Theater and “Southern hospitality” of Suffolk residents he’s met thus far also have resonated with Lasakow in the past two weeks, he said.

Lasakow welcomes input from the community on how the arts center can better serve the city’s needs. E-mail your thoughts to