Monday, September 26, 2005

Sorry Brad

by F. T. Rea
How in the world did anyone at the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation really think announcing that its president, L. Bradford Armstrong, would be taking a pay-cut would do any good at this point? Having Armstrong forgo about a third of his six figure salary is hardly going to clean up his festering PR problem, which at this point may be the VAPAF’s problem that most sorely needs a solution.

At this time I’m not going to suggest that Mr. Armstrong’s motives or priorities have been skewed all along. I’ll leave it to others to say he doesn’t know much about what he is doing, show biz-wise. However, I will say the former big league adman has managed to become a millstone around the neck of the very project he has been working toward establishing. That Armstrong and his colleagues seem blithely unaware of this obvious truth is baffling.

At the Carpenter Center, in December of last year, I had the near-pleasure of meeting and chatting with Brad Armstrong. At the behest of a local publisher I was there as a freelancer to attend a press conference and party which had been put together on the theater’s stage by the VAPAF. When I took the gig the editor explained to me that all was needed from me was a short news story covering the essentials. In other words, I was not there as a columnist digging for dirt to use in an opinion piece.
That suited me fine. I was interested in the project, having followed its progress in the local press. I had no ax to grind. I was curious about some things and hoped to understand better what was going on. Plus, the food was tasty enough and the beer was free. And, as the Carpenter Center was closing for a couple of years for renovation, I wanted to get one last look at it, as it was.

So I mingled and read the copy posted on the displays of the proposed new buildings. After listening to the speakers -- then-Carpenter Center general manager Joel Katz, Lt. Governor Tim Kaine, and Armstrong -- I took a last tour of the lobby and balcony of what I first knew to be the Loew’s Theater. I recalled seeing “Blow Up” (1966) there, along with a list of other titles. Then I went back to the stage to ask a few questions of Armstrong, and perhaps Katz.

Katz was polite and forthcoming. But Armstrong avoided answering my questions, which were rather generic. It seemed odd. Why call in the press and then deflect basic questions with lame patter? Like, how much money did the group actually have in hand?

Armstrong wouldn’t give me anything close to a straight answer. Most of what I got from him was dismissive guff, served up with an intense haughtiness that was both startling and off-putting. Since then I’ve noticed more of the same air in his public remarks, and I’ve spoken with enough people to gather that my impression of him is widely shared.

It's too late to rehabilitate Armstrong's image. When the VAPAF’s surely well-healed, supposedly politically savvy, board finally wakes up and gives Brad Armstrong the air it will probably be doing the best thing it can toward breaking up its logjam with Mayor L. Douglas Wilder.

(Photo Credit: F. T. Rea)

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