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Reinvesting In Amarillo

Collaboration and Reinvestment are Keys to Amarillo’s Future


         Have you ever taken on one task only to see it expand into other opportunities? Have you ever started one project and had it blossom into something much bigger? These unexpected moments of interconnectivity are always challenging, but they can be extremely exciting, too.

Personally, I feel like I’m in the middle of one of those moments. Last Fall, Susan White announced she would be leaving her position as Executive Director of the Amarillo Symphony Orchestra to become general manager of the Spokane Symphony in Washington. This was a great move for Susan but left our Symphony in need of a new leader. We’re now in our second season under the baton of acclaimed conductor Jacomo Rafael Bairos—who has taken the Symphony to new levels of performance and creativity—but we need someone to replace Susan.

 As a member of the Board of Directors for the Amarillo Symphony Orchestra, I have been asked to chair the search committee. When I began studying the job posting for the Executive Director position, I was surprised to find that as much of the text was promoting Amarillo as describing the Symphony and the position itself. Wondering why this was the case, I asked around.

Here’s what I learned: The biggest challenge in filling a high-profile position like Executive Director of the Symphony isn’t locating exceptional candidates. It’s finding exceptional candidates who are willing to move to Amarillo.

That may surprise some people. Those of us who have chosen to build our lives here know already why Amarillo is a fantastic place to live. We’re minutes away from beautiful Palo Duro Canyon and enjoy some of the best sunsets and sunrises in the Southwest. Few cities our size have a successful opera, symphony and ballet like we do. Forbes ranks Amarillo as #38 for the Best Small Places for Business and Careers.  

“In today’s economy, quality of life is the focus,” says City Council Member Ellen Robertson Green, who is also Chief Communication and Marketing Officer at Amarillo College. While the phrase itself encompasses a large range of issues, “quality of life” often refers to art and culture. As a civic leader, Green believes it is her responsibility to advocate for those kinds of activities.

A perfect example of this impact is the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts where the Amarillo Symphony Orchestra, Amarillo Opera, Lone Star Ballet, and countless other artistic performances take place. Opened in 2006, this now-iconic building was a significant first step in making Amarillo a cultural destination. “The Globe News Center was the anchor project,” Green says. “The people who brought us the Globe News Center were the first who really believed in the revitalization of downtown Amarillo.”

Ellen Jones, the chair of the Symphony’s Focus Committee on Relationships, has said that the world-class Globe News Center had an enormous impact on our ability to attract a conductor like Bairos. Likewise, it should help us find a visionary leader to be the Symphony’s new Executive Director. This person, she says, “needs to be someone with strong leadership skills who can unite with the Amarillo Art Community for the good of Amarillo.”

A united city is key. The Amarillo Symphony is looking for a results oriented leader who can collaborate with the vibrant arts community of this region--from students and educators within local school districts to the faculty and musicians at WTAMU and Amarillo College, and from the performing arts such as the Opera and Ballet to other cultural entities like Amarillo Little Theatre and Amarillo Museum of Art.

Just like the ASO Executive Director will ideally be central for the arts and cultural communities, we see a visible example of this in downtown Amarillo. It is the heart of our city. Every quadrant and neighborhood of our city intersects here. The downtown area is Amarillo’s artistic nucleus.

While the Globe News Center may have been the first recent project of a downtown revitalization, it shouldn’t be the end. I hope it will be the beginning of an ongoing transformation in Amarillo.

Transformation is definitely possible. Our city has two unique qualities that provide a strong foundation for growth. First, unlike many cities in West Texas, we have an adequate and sustainable water supply, with half a million acre feet of water rights in the area. That means we can support a larger population than currently lives here.

Second, we are geographically isolated. Our position on I-40 between Albuquerque and Oklahoma City puts us at least four hours from any other major city. That makes Amarillo the artistic and population center of a 26-county region. We’re the medical and shopping destination for hundreds of thousands of Panhandle residents—far more than the 200,000 in our immediate urban area.

Moreover, our economy is strong. Our people are friendly, hard-working, and passionate about our area.

All those ingredients combine to form the perfect model for economic growth. It is not a linear model, but a dynamic, fluid, even cyclical one.  As we invest in the arts and downtown venues we will see improvement in the arts and local culture. As the culture improves, quality of life improves. Quality of life brings educated people to the area. It encourages our children to return home after pursuing post high school education. The influx of educated professionals generates higher paying jobs and an innovative workforce. This leads to additional investment. The cycle continues. Success breeds success. 

The cycle must begin somewhere. We must think beyond ourselves and for our children and grandchildren. It is not easy to facilitate and implement a change in the thinking process.  It requires us to elect leaders and to support visionaries. 

We have to do these things to make Amarillo a destination rather than a pass-through city on the way to somewhere else. When we begin to believe in ourselves, others will believe in us. When we invest in ourselves, others will invest in us, too. All of us must work together to achieve this.   

Without hesitation, Ellen Robertson Green equates Amarillo’s quality of life with cultural investment. “We need venues. Arts and cultural activities are part of the modern economy,” she says, and those are the kinds of venues that contribute to Amarillo’s quality of life. “As I look around Amarillo I see exciting developments such as Town Square, the reinvestment in Wolflin Square and the downtown revitalization. These are projects of visionaries who have an understanding of what is required in the modern economy.” That kind of reinvestment, she says, results in “the creation of the kind of community with the quality of life that is viable for decades to come.”

Amarillo has a fantastic quality of life. We are comfortable here but comfort sometimes leads to complacency. We simply can’t afford to sit back and not take action. Let’s look beyond ourselves and toward an improved, future Amarillo where the arts are central, where our downtown area is bustling and energetic, and where the best and the brightest choose to make their home.


Kimberly Dryden, Risk Management Consultant

NCW Insurance