For 1st time in 3 decades, Galvin arts center has new chief

It’s been a long and winding road, but John Hagar is exactly where he needs to be as new director of the Galvin Fine Arts Center at St. Ambrose University, Davenport.

The job fits like a glove, since the 42-year-old native of Flagstaff, Ariz., is a visual artist, graphic designer, writer and musician.

“John has a well-rounded job history including retail sales, restaurant management, and industrial project management, always with focus on profitability and sales,” said Patrick Archer, SAU’s dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Most recent to joining the St. Ambrose team, John was a freelance designer who helped build several companies from the ground up through designing marketing strategy, building brand recognition and crafting narrative designs,” Archer said, noting that while the marketing director for Galvin, Hagar achieved record attendance for SAU Theatre shows, the professional arts series and collaborations with Quad City Arts.

Now as Galvin director, “John plans to adapt and evolve the professional arts lineup to grow attendance and make the GFAC a destination for the Quad Cities — where empathy is ever expanded by community access to novel performances, diverse art and an inclusive environment,” Archer added.

On the west side of campus (off Gaines Street), the center is home to academic programs for Art and DesignArt EducationMusic/Music EducationTheatre (minor), Digital Media ProductionPR/Strategic Communication, and Multimedia Journalism as well as SAUtv and KALA Radio, two art galleries, a 50-seat black box theatre, 110-seat recital hall, and 1,200-seat auditorium.

Hagar — who began working at Galvin in September 2021 — is not filling the marketing position he previously had, due to university budget cuts, and he will not be marketing free events anymore.

“They are moving those duties to another avenue on campus,” he said recently. “I don’t have time to do posters and flyers for events that really don’t sell product.”

Hagar replaced Lance Sadlek – who was Galvin director since 1991 and in December 2022 became new executive director of the RiverCenter/Adler Theatre. Hagar was interim Galvin director before becoming permanent in February.

“It was a privilege to work with John at the university,” Sadlek said recently. “I’m happy that the Galvin Fine Arts Center is in good hands with John at the helm.”

“I hope that Lance’s legacy and all the work that he’s done is cemented,” Hagar said. “I loved working with Lance and I am so happy that he is doing programming because he wants that. Him leaving actually gave me some leverage to get some changes that we needed.

“I know everybody; I have good relationships with everybody,” he said. One main change he’s hoping to implement is for Galvin to get to keep its revenue, which usually goes into SAU’s general fund.

“Now we will have the capacity to earn our own money, and bring in bigger and better acts,” he said. “We are going to bring in more dance competitions – some nationwide stuff, which will be really exciting.”

Because of over $1 million in planned SAU budget cuts, he wasn’t able to fill his marketing position, and Galvin has only one other employee, a technical director (Zach Meyer).

“Enrollments are a little bit down; a lot of things changed with the pandemic,” Hagar said. “They’re doing everything they can to boost those.”

“I tried to get in front of that, so we could continue to be a venue, continue to serve – not just the Ambrose community, but the larger community,” he said. “It would have been easy for someone to just sit at their desk and say, ‘We don’t need this.’”

A priceless value

The arts provide priceless value that a dollar amount can’t be assigned.

“The singular most important thing that we can do as people is expand empathy and put ourselves in other people’s situations,” Hagar said. “That’s something the arts do exclusively. The arts are a window into somebody else’s soul, into their life.

“The more people that we have coming in, they walk out differently,” he said. “They walk out knowing what it’s like to be somebody else, in a way they can’t get somewhere else.”

That’s an essential part of students’ education, Hagar said. Seeing the theater department cut in the past few years (including elimination of the theater major) was hard.

“It’s a challenge for Galvin, because 60 to 75 percent of the revenue came from theater department shows,” Hagar said, noting there won’t any more mainstage productions for the foreseeable future.

“Hopefully, we will see a theater major return to St. Ambrose, and I think that it will be for the good of St. Ambrose and for the community to do that,” he said.

In October 2020, Paul Koch, former SAU Provost and Vice President for Academics and Student Affairs, said that following a review process and recommendation, the university decided to close the theater major, and no incoming students starting fall 2021 could declare that as a major.

Over 2,800 people signed a petition in 2020 opposing elimination of the theater major, which has produced many students who have won Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival regional honors.

In 2019, former longtime theater professor Cory Johnson earned a pinnacle honor of her profession, The Kennedy Center Medallion from the festival. She directed the last full mainstage musical at Galvin, in spring 2022, “Little Women,” before retiring.

2022 was first time Johnson had two SAU students qualify for the national KCACTF in Washington, D.C., at the same time. Junior education major Peyton Reese and 2021 theater graduate Luke Peterson won the 2022 musical theater and directing categories (respectively) in their region.

Last fall, SAU staged a smaller musical, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”

This month, Galvin’s Studio Theatre hosts the Haus of Ruckus original show, “Are We There Yeti?” – running last weekend and next.

What does the future hold?

In the next season, Galvin will host mostly musical guest artists, and maybe one dance troupe, in addition to faculty concerts, Hagar said. “Music easier, because they’re plug and play, they come and go,” he said. “Tech is a lot lighter.”

“It will increase the average ticket price and probably reduce the total number in the series,” he said.

This summer, Galvin will host three major dance programs – Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, the Bettendorf Family Museum, and the Dancer’s Place of Davenport.

Expanding films at Galvin likely won’t work, since film doesn’t do well, Hagar said.

During Civil Rights Week last month, with wide marketing, films shown attracted only 60 people each, he said. “We did a movie last semester that had three people show up. Just to buy the rights is about $650, through the university’s contract.”

“Even if we brought something new out, we still can’t beat the streaming services,” Hagar said. “I think people are eager to get out, but you still have to sell it to them.”

The pianist Julian Gargiulo, “The Pianist With the Hair,” this past September sold over 400 tickets and people loved it, he said. That was an example of a unique event people can’t really see anywhere else (Gargiulo also studied in Moscow at the same time as SAU music professor Marian Lee, so they got a friend discount).

The free “Casual Classics” concerts at Madsen Hall (110-seat capacity) are a handful of times each semester (Fridays at 5 p.m.), and they’re popular. Last Friday was flute instructor Rose Bishop, and they are laid-back style concerts, with snacks and drinks.

“It’s a great way for people to get into classical music, who normally wouldn’t be there,” Hagar said.

He’d also like to see more collaboration with events in the Catich and Morrissey art galleries.

“They have great shows, but they don’t get a lot of foot traffic. They’re hidden,” Hagar said. The university is hosting a white privilege symposium in early May and Galvin is offering Catich Gallery as a “safe space,” he said. “When people, if they get triggered by the symposium, can go into the gallery and calm down. I would like to see more wine and cheese there before a concert. Have a nice evening, enjoy the art and we have a show.

“I have a great relationship with Christopher Reno, the gallery director, and I’d love for the galleries to get more foot traffic,” Hagar said.

Selling a free show is hard

This school year, for the first time the annual “Ambrosian Christmas” concert required paid tickets ($16 each) and it attracted an audience of 450, more than most years, Hagar said.

“For me, there’s nothing harder to sell than a free show,” he said. “People aren’t committed to free shows. They might say, that’s interesting, but when it comes around, they don’t come. If you get them to spend $1, they will come.”

The Christmas concerts feature about 100 student performers, so there’s a built-in audience of about 300, Hagar said.

The students are the hardest population to market to, he noted. Sales and marketing students help fill that need.

“We spend a lot of energy trying to get students to come to events,” Hagar said. Most students who come to recitals and friends or students of those performing.

“I think students are bombarded with emails and flyers for so many things,” he said. “They’re really selective; they need to know someone who’s participating. That’s why we do direct marketing to them. We send them a ticket, even though they don’t have to pay. They’re getting committed.”

For all ticketed events at Galvin, students get in for free with ID.

From Arizona to Wisconsin to QC

Hagar’s first bachelor’s degree was from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay (2009) in English literature. His wife Tanya is a philosophy professor at SAU, and has taught at another Catholic school, St. Norbert’s College in Wisconsin. They grew up together in Arizona and have two sons, ages 5 and 2.

Hagar and his wife moved to the QC in 2010, and he first worked as a project manager in restoration for SERVPRO. Hagar went on tour with his Arizona-based band for a year in 2014 (on guitar), an acoustic rock style he called “gangster folk” (with hip-hop influences), mainly in the Southwest. He did a lot of photography for hip-hop shows that year.

Back in the QC, he mainly did freelance design work, and completed another bachelor’s degree at Ambrose in graphic design (finishing in 2020). Hagar wrote marketing plans for new businesses, also located in Arizona. The biggest one he helped build is a septic company. “It’s not sexy, but it’s important,” he said.

“That really got me into marketing, in a way I thought I could make a business out of it,” Hagar said, noting he also worked for a DJ and record producer. He started working for Galvin in September 2021, after tutoring art for high school kids.

“I feel like I found my calling when I started here,” Hagar said. SAU lifted its mask mandate in December 2021, and more audiences began returning.

“It was a challenge because I wanted to unleash my full marketing potential, but it was reined in – let’s just get enough people for the events,” Hagar recalled. There were a lot fewer events than normal in the 2021-22 school year.

In 2021, Galvin marked its 50th anniversary.

It opened in May 1971, with guest performers joining the St. Ambrose chorus and orchestra in the 1,200-seat auditorium for Mozart’s Grand Mass in C Minor. The auditorium had a busy theatre and music calendar throughout the 1971-72 academic year, highlighted by comedian George Carlin at Homecoming and a 60-member cast performing the musical drama, “La Perichole,” with support from the college orchestra.

Upcoming 2023 events include:

Winter Vocal Concert: Hold On! — A Celebration of African-American choral music
Featuring Chamber Singers and University Chorale
Friday, March 10, Allaert Auditorium

Winter Instrumental Concert
Featuring the Symphonic Band
Friday, March 31, Allaert Auditorium

Senior Recital: Charles Murphy, voice
Saturday, April 22, Madsen Hall

Spring Invitational Recital, SAU Applied Music students
Sunday, April 23, Madsen Hall

Together We Rise: William Campbell album release concert
Saturday, April 29, Allaert Auditorium
Tickets: $20 general admission/50% discount for SAU faculty/SAU students FREE with ID

Quad City Wind Ensemble

Sunday, April 30, Allaert Auditorium

Band Day at the Bandshell
Featuring the Symphonic Band and Marching Band
Saturday, May 13, LeClaire Park Bandshell, Davenport

Spring Vocal Concert
Featuring Chamber Singers and University Chorale
Sunday, May 14, 3:00 pm,
Allaert Auditorium

Catich Gallery:

Faculty Spotlight: Kristin Quinn
March 13 – April 14
Opening Reception Wednesday, March 15

2023 Senior Honors Exhibition (Students TBD)
April 24 – May 12
Q&A/Reception Thursday, April 27

Morrissey Gallery:

Faculty Spotlight: Renee Meyer Ernst
March 13 – April 14
Opening Reception Wednesday, March 15

2023 Senior Exhibition
April 24 – May 12
Reception Thursday, April 27