Center for Cultural Exchange to keep building
Lisa DiFranza hired as new executive director
By Chris Busby
The board of the Center for Cultural Exchange has decided to keep the non-profit organization’s signature building in Longfellow Square. Board members also hired a new executive director, Lisa DiFranza, a teacher at the University of New England with extensive experience working with arts organizations in the Portland area.
“The rumors of our death are greatly exaggerated,” DiFranza said at a press conference held at the Center this morning. She and board president Jay Young said the Center will not be as active this year as it has been in the past – Young said it’s highly doubtful they will organize another Festival of Cultural Exchange this year – but they plan to “ramp up” the organization’s programs and events over the next few years.
The Center’s future has been questionable since founding directors Bau Graves and Phyllis O’Neill unexpectedly resigned last fall. Last December, Young said the board would “likely” sell its Longfellow Square performance space and offices, and “contract the scope” of the Center’s educational programs and arts events. Board members doubted the Center would be able to secure sufficient grant money and donations to continue its work without Graves and O’Neill, who have since moved to Virginia.
The Center’s program director, Ryan McMaken, was considered a strong candidate for the executive director position, but he resigned last month for what he said were personal reasons unrelated to the Center’s situation.
McMaken has now rejoined the Center as a board member, and DiFranza said she will be working with him to develop a new schedule of performances this year.
DiFranza has been a faculty member at the prestigious Julliard School in New York, and has worked with several theaters there. She served as the artistic and executive director of the Children’s Theater of Maine for seven years, founded the Arts Academy at Portland Arts and Technology High School, and is currently affiliated with Portland Stage Company, where she directs plays and festivals of new work, according to a bio provided at the press conference.
Portland Mayor Jim Cohen and State Senator Ethan Strimling were among those on hand to congratulate DiFranza. Both spoke of the Center’s importance and the value of arts and cultural activities in Portland. Strimling noted that his association with DiFranza goes back 20 years, to the time he was an actor studying at Julliard. He said he was elated to hear the news she was joining the Center, and pledged to help support the organization in any way possible.