"I'm concentrating on learning the policies and procedures of the campus and what forms to fill out," he said with a smile. "I'm getting accustomed to the culture and working with the staff and the organizational structure of the Lied Center. I will be working with the board and the state outreach advisory committee to (work on) the mission and goals for the future -- if things should have more or less priority.
"As we approach the 10th anniversary of the Lied Center, we want to do some special things, collaborating types of things, things to distinguish the Lied Center again," he said. "A 10th anniversary is one of the major marks of any organization. The 2002-2003 programming has already started, but at the same time we are talking to (presenters) about the 10th anniversary programs, which will be in 2003-2004."
The 100th anniversary of the Concert Series also will fall in 2003-2004, he pointed out.
A known factor
Van Leer, 54, reported to work on July 2, but he had been in Lawrence on several occasions since his hiring in April to meet with the Lied Center board, staff and committees.
"That allowed me to get a head start on my work," he said.
Van Leer has known about the Lied Center for years, mainly because of his involvement in national performing arts presenters organizations. That brought him into contact with Jackie Davis, former Lied Center executive director.
He was in the audience during the Lied Center's grand opening ceremonies in September 1993.
"I was aware of the Lied Center, even the programming Jackie had in Swarthout Recital Hall and Hoch (Auditorium)," he said. "I was aware of how the (Lied Center) facility helped elevate its visibility and prestige. I was aware of the programming, projects, the development of the education program and how it grew over the last seven years."
When Davis announced in June 2000 that she was leaving the Lied Center to take a job in New York City as executive director of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center, Van Leer said he began getting phone calls asking he if was going to apply for the position.
After the third caller told him that he would be perfect for the job, he decided to check it out for himself.
Van Leer was one of three finalists interviewed last spring. He came to the KU campus Feb. 11 to begin the interviewing process.
"I was thrilled when I got here and met people. I was excited about their response to me and what I had to say about the arts. (When I got home), I told my wife, 'I really want this job and I hope I have done enough to get it.'"
After he was hired, Van Leer and his wife, Jerrye, returned to Lawrence to learn about the community and to hunt for a house. At the end of their stay, his wife told him, "Now I know why you're excited."
The Van Leers moved to Lawrence in mid-June.
"There's so many things about Lawrence and the university (that are attractive), but it's the Lied Center, this building and the things we present as part of the Lied Center series (that drew me)," he said. "The people communicated to me why (the Lied Center) was so important to Lawrence, KU and the state."
What really hooked Van Leer was the outreach programs offered by the Lied Center in Lawrence and smaller Kansas communities.
He cited the Drak Puppet Theatre's journey to Wilson last spring as a prime example of how artists can make a difference in rural areas. The troupe made puppets with the town's schoolchildren, shared a potluck dinner with residents, visited a senior center and toured the Czech Opera House.
"This really sort of sealed it for me," he said. "I look to increase (outreach programs) in the future and for the artists to spend more time in communities across the state."
Differences and similarities
Comparing El Camino College Center for the Arts with the Lied Center is fairly easy. Van Leer said El Camino presents a greater number of events and has more production staff because the center builds the costumes and sets and provides technical crews for the college's theater department. The Lied Center, on the other hand, offers a more extensive educational program. Both have similar budgets.
The Lied Center's budget for this performance season is $2.3 million, of which $275,000 will be gained through fund-raising activities.
"We're a nonprofit, so fund- and friend-raising will be an important part of what we do in this year," he said. "We are fortunate because of the interest in the Lied Center. Last year, they exceeded their fund-raising goal. The goal is higher this year. " We want (supporters) to continue to have interest and trust in us. This operation has been fortunate to develop a constituency that trusts us, and we hope to continue without as much as a hiccup along the way."
Van Leer also plans to maintain the Lied Center's active involvement in the Lawrence community.
"Lawrence talks about the arts in the same breath as streets, parks and libraries," he said. "Lawrence and KU have great traditions, but the arts is a part of the infrastructure and the arts have to be built up in much the same way as paving a street and buying books for the library. The artists in the community can provide creative answers to difficult problems outside of the arts."
Learning about the audiences
The Lied Center will kick off its performance season Aug. 24 with an outdoor concert on its northeast lawn. Beausoleil, a Cajun band, will take the stage at 7 p.m.
The Lied Center Series begins at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 22 with "Dance, the Spirit of Cambodia," a project of the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Van Leer will no doubt be in the audiences.
"I need to get to know the audiences as quickly as I can. I need to talk to them about their support and the things they see in the programming," he said. "I've received lots of feedback on the starting times of the shows (which start earlier this season) and about the prices being expensive. I don't think the prices are terribly expensive -- for the quality of the events, the ticket prices aren't outrageous."
When he's not working, Van Leer said he and his wife -- self-described "empty nesters" -- like to explore surrounding towns and interesting sites. The Van Leers have two daughters -- Melinda, a writer for The Pampered Chef, and Jill, a student at Humboldt State University in Arcata, Calif. -- and a son, Jack, who works for the FOX network in Los Angeles.
Van Leer also likes to read, cook and golf.
-- Features-arts editor Jan Biles can be reached at 832-7146.