Community driven Arts Director hired at the Vern Riffe

January 18, 2013

Joseph Pratt

PDT Intern

The new director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts wasted little time addressing skeptics.

“I don’t think any of the readers will believe any answer I will give, because who the heck wants to leave Hawaii, right?” Joseph Patti, the newly appointed director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts, said, as he explained his reasons for leaving his eight-year career as Theatre Manager at the University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College in Honolulu, Hawaii. “I have moved things forward for the program here [Leeward Community]. However, I felt like I needed to move my career forward professionally. In addition, the cost of living is rather high and the traffic in Honolulu is the worst in the country per capita.”

Patti said after hearing about the position and looking into what it entailed, the job’s influence with SOPPA (Southern Ohio Performing Arts Association) was a powerful driving force in his decision to apply.

“I was there for 2-3 days and I am still not sure where SSU ends and SOPPA begins,” Patti said. “That is a good thing to my mind, because it shows just how close a partnership the university and the community organization have.”

Patti explained that working with SOPPA will be an exciting endeavor, because Hawaii’s distance made it difficult to organize many shows. However, Leeward Community belongs to a consortium of presenting theatres on all the islands that come together to book shows. The responsibility was on Patti to leverage buying power and the ability to gain grant support. The similarly strong relationship in Portsmouth really attracted him to the directorial position.

Patti is no stranger to a campus environment, having worked at the University of Central Florida, Florida State University, and University of Hawaii, respectively in arts fields. Patti has also helped organize large-scale outdoor events and concerts, along with his job duties of managing a theatre. However, one of Patti’s valuable skills remains in storytelling, where he has helped Hawaii artistically portray their culture over his years as theatre manager.

“One of the things I am most proud of doing in this position is cultivating local arts groups and helping them produce works that told their stories,” Patti stated. “We helped produce an opera entirely in Hawaiian; a dance-drama piece about the Hawaiian snow goddess Poli‘ahu; a work about the Maui chief Kahekili who had brought seven of the eight islands under his control, enabling Kamehameha the Great to unite all the islands into the Kingdom of Hawaii.”

Patti said that he would like to do some similar work during his tenure at Shawnee State.

“One of the things I hope to do over time in Portsmouth is try to identify people who know the particular ‘stories’ of the area and do something with them. I don’t expect it will look anything like what I did in Hawaii,” Patti said, “Everywhere I go, I pick up new skills and knowledge I didn’t expect. Enabling the telling of local stories may not end up being the hallmark of my tenure at SSU. I am interested to see what happens.”

The interviewing process and campus visit took Patti three days and he had little time to meet many of the faculty members at Shawnee State. However, Patti said that when he did get to meet with his interviewers, he was pleased that they asked him personal questions, because it showed they actually cared about who they were hiring. Most importantly, he was impressed with the amount of attention he received from Shawnee State University President, Dr. Rita Morris.

“I really enjoyed meeting with President Morris. I had the opportunity to have dinner with her one on one. The fact she was involved with the search really emphasized how important the choice of the Vern Riffe director was to the university. The fact that the SOPPA board was so involved and present in such large numbers at numerous meetings during my interview likewise emphasized how important the choice was to the community,” said Patti.

The Vern Riffe Center for the Arts has been under the interim direction of Dr. Tim Scheurer, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, since last July when former director Carl Daehler stepped down to accept a position on the faculty staff in the University’s music department.

“I’m looking forward to joining Shawnee State University and to working with the SOPAA Board,” Patti said in a released statement. “During my visit to campus I was extremely impressed with the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts facility, the students, staff, faculty, and the community — and their commitment to the arts. I’m looking forward to being a part of helping people discover — or rediscover — what makes the center unique.”

Patti will assume the role of as director of the VRCFA on May 6, 2013.

“We are pleased that Joe will be joining us this spring,” said Dr. Rita Rice Morris, SSU President, in a released statement. “He has worked with institutions like ours and has experience in building strong relationships with the community. I am particularly looking forward to working with him to develop his ideas for integrating activities at the Vern Riffe Center with campus life and in continuing to build upon the strong relationship that we share with SOPAA and its members.”

For more information about the Vern Riffe Center For the Arts and its upcoming shows visit, sopaa.org.