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The new managing director of the Little Art Theatre, Kristina Heaton said she is excited to welcome patrons back this month. Reopening plans are ongoing, with a date set for Sept. 24. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Little Art Theatre’s new managing director settles in

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Entertain, inform and inspire: these words are at the core of the Little Art Theatre’s mission. As the Little Art celebrates nearly 92 years of operation, Kristina Heaton, its newly hired managing director, is making it her personal mission to continue building a legacy that reflects the values of the theater and of the Yellow Springs community.

On the job since late July, Heaton has taken on the position formerly held by longtime manager Jenny Cowperthwaite, with some additional responsibilities. Not only is Heaton tasked with overseeing day-to-day operations at the theater, she also is responsible for fundraising, developing the budget and fostering partnerships with donors.

Cowperthwaite, who was with the Little Art for over 40 years, left the position in 2020. In an email, she wrote: “I sincerely wish Little Art and its new managing director nothing but the best, especially in these pandemic times. It will be a wonderful day for all of us when the Little Art is able to reopen.”

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Heaton is a lifelong resident of the Miami Valley and a graduate of Wright State University. She lives in Beavercreek with her husband and four children, Jacob, Kathryn, Josh and Penelope. Heaton has a background in nonprofit work, but most recently owned Once Upon a Thyme Bookshop in Beavercreek, Ohio, which sold cookbooks and other food-related reading materials.

Several challenges made keeping a brick-and-mortar store open difficult, and Heaton decided to close the shop in late 2020 and focus on being with her family.

“We had three major catastrophes — the tornadoes in May, the shooting in The Oregon District and COVID-19. All of these led to closing,” Heaton said in a recent phone interview.

With her youngest child heading to school for face-to-face instruction in August, Heaton decided to begin looking for a job. She said she was early in her search when she came across a posting about the Little Art position on the Art House Convergence’s website. The ARC is a group that supports a network of community-based theaters. According to Heaton, the job was a perfect intersection between her background in nonprofit work and her love for storytelling and visual arts.

“Coming to see movies at the Little Art has been one of my favorite pastimes,” she said. “I love how movies and visual storytelling can open people’s hearts and minds.”

So Heaton jumped at the opportunity to apply for the operating manager’s position.
According to Little Art board member Terry Fife, Heaton meets the theater’s needs. In an email to the News, Fife wrote that the board wanted a leader with “strong people skills and someone eager to master new skills.”

“It was important to consider all the skill sets associated with the position and the range of tasks such a person might be expected to carry out,” Fife wrote. “By being forthright and casting a wide net, we felt we would attract a wide range of candidates, which we did.”

The search committee enlisted the help of advisors, Little Art board members, and community members. The position was posted on Art House Convergence, but was also cross-posted in the Miami Valley Nonprofit and several Yellow Springs groups.

Heaton’s prior experience will be helpful. She has worked with various Miami Valley nonprofits, including SICSA, the Boonshoft Museum, St. Vincent De Paul and The Victoria Theater, so she is no stranger to fundraising and marketing.

“But I had never run the day-to-day operations of a theater, so I’ve had to lean on those with institutional knowledge to help me,” Heaton said.

Heaton said she has reached out to all the former staff members, and has received a mix of responses as to whether they want to return to the Little Art.

In addition to her love for the Little Art, Heaton said she is excited to be working in the Yellow Springs community because she shares many of the values held by community members.

“I have always loved the feeling of openness in Yellow Springs. It’s the kind of place where I want my kids to grow up — a true community,” Heaton said.

Since taking the position in late July, Heaton’s main focus has been on reopening the theater after its closure due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Initially shutting its doors in March 2020, the theater reopened in July of that year, but shut its doors again in September after eight weeks, making the decision to push back the reopening until the community felt safe returning.

“I understand that some people needed to move on, but I believe that the right people come in at the right time,” Heaton said.

With a reopening anticipated in the near future, Fife encourages patrons to begin checking the theater’s website in early September for updated information. In a letter to Friends of the Little Art, business partners and other sponsors, Heaton announced that the reopen date is Friday, Sept. 24.

The theme planned for the reopening weekend is “Welcome back! What did we miss?” and will include four films: “Nine Days,” “Roadrunner,” “Summer of Soul” and “Promising Young Woman.”

COVID-19 protocols will align with CDC guidelines and Village ordinances, according to Fife.

“Kristina emphasized the fluid nature of these next weeks and perhaps months relative to COVID,” she wrote.

Because of that, patrons will be required to wear a mask unless eating, and Heaton will monitor capacity on a show-by-show basis. Staff will also encourage patrons to socially distance when choosing seats and purchasing concessions.

Heaton said she has been working hard and is ready to welcome patrons back into the space.

“We want to make sure that things are welcoming and exciting,” Heaton said. “It’s an honor to be managing one of Ohio’s oldest single-screen theaters, and I am committed to the continued stewardship of this important community resource.”

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