An Interview With a Musical Icon
by Tafi Stober
The Van Wert Live Team is working fervently to prepare and announce new concerts, 2021 sponsors, a new benefit-driven membership program, and introduce volunteer opportunities. It truly is like starting over again but this reset has provided the opportunity to adapt our product and delivery to the needs of the current environment. Overcoming obstacles is nothing new for the Van Wert Area Performing Arts Foundation. There is a rich history of vision casting and pushing ahead during times of challenge. To learn more about the beginning, I interviewed my esteemed Executive Director predecessor, Paul Hoverman.
Q: In your own words, can you share what it felt like to help lay the groundwork for the live performing arts in Van Wert beginning in 2005?
The everyday fear of failure was a motivating factor. There was much division in the community that existed for the Niswonger Performing Arts Center building project. We had to overcome the negativism. Much different than the signs promoting entertainment today in Van Wert, a sign existed that stated, “Come see the Niswonger Folly!” Many thought that the vision was no more than a wild and extravagant dream. The turning point came with Scott Niswonger’s initial investment of $3 Million. This provided encouragement, motivation & momentum. Chuck Koch was an essential leader of sharing the benefits of the project with key stakeholders. He initiated the vital funding conversations through networking and sharing the dream. Scott Niswonger also stepped up and flew 40 of our people to the hills of East Tennessee. It impressed on us all that if he could build a performing arts center in Greeneville, TN, then we could do it in Van Wert. A fleet of four jets was used to fly us down to the Niswonger - Greeneville, TN Grand Opening. During these trips, building enhancements to take a school auditorium to a commercial operation were realized and implemented into the Van Wert project. Cathy Hoffman, VWCS Superintendent at that time, spearheaded many improvements that helped ensure the successful operation of the space as a Performing Arts Center.
Q: What were some challenges that you met in the over a decade of guiding the VWAPAF towards the vision?
Getting the right team from the very first day throughout time was a challenge. Both the right staff and the right board were huge factors in sustainability and success by guiding them toward a shared mission. Finding the right staff with the proper talent freed me to be a visionary and then empower staff and guide them in delivering a quality product, every time. Also challenging was overcoming negativity and facing the fear of failure of the concept, a season, and every individual event. The success of each event lead to the big picture and that pressure was ever-present. The shared space concept with VWCS creates a special relationship that takes proactive management and communication to work. I always worked to keep that relationship positive and moving in the right direction, together.
Q: What was the most rewarding aspect of your career with the VWAPAF?
The ultimate reward was making people happy and bringing joy into their lives. Observing our guests at concerts and seeing how the experience made their life “better” and knowing I had a small part in that was very fulfilling. Fountain Park events were extra special in bringing everyone together. Free concerts made it possible to share moments with many who couldn’t afford tickets. The Fountain Park Series brought us to a shared place where we could release cares and just get lost in the music.
Q: What are your future goals and aspirations at continuing to contribute to music in Van Wert?
I will always be supportive and provide a sounding board for the operation. I am personally focused on music events that are faith-based. My position at First United Methodist Church is to merge faith-based entertainment with church arts and position the church as a cultured center for the arts. This is not to compete with Van Wert Live events but rather complement arts offerings by creating our own productions and providing a niche opportunity for regional performers. Once we get beyond this pandemic, you will notice this coming more into focus.
Working for Paul Hoverman as the Marketing Director of the VWAPAF for nearly a decade, provided an opportunity to build a relationship of respect and trust. I honor Paul’s passion to impact lives with music. I have witnessed his extreme dedication to that purpose. I have also witnessed the results and will forever be grateful for his influence on my life personally and professionally. Our conversation demonstrates the musical legacy that was the result of overcoming obstacles and how it relates to the future Vision. We are now in a day where the risks of failure are different but just as imminent. But the vision to make Van Wert an entertainment destination is greater than any fear and is shouldered by stakeholders and a community that believes in its power. I am grateful to Paul Hoverman, Scott Niswonger, Chuck Koch, Cathy Hoffman, The Van Wert County Foundation, and all of the many businesses and personal contributors who gave to bring us to where we are today. Our Board and Staff know that we are the keepers of the legacy and we approach that responsibility with diligence and zeal for what is to come. Our present opportunity to revive the live arts is a bridge to the future made possible by the success of the past. We believe the good ole’ days are not gone but rather the best is yet to come!