Changing the score

Natalie McComb and Adam Volpe are taking on new roles with the Reilly Arts Center.

Natalie McComb [Photo courtesy Reilly Arts Center]

Home » Arts & Entertainment
Posted January 31, 2024 | By Susan Smiley-Height,

There are two new starring roles at the Reilly Arts Center.

Taking center stage will be Natalie McComb, as executive director of the Reilly Arts Center and the Ocala Symphony Orchestra, and Adam Volpe, who is being promoted from director of the Marion Theatre to senior director of operations and programming for the Reilly.

Adam Volpe [Photo courtesy Reilly Arts Center]

The changes came about as Pamela Calero Wardell, who served as the executive director of the OSO and the Reilly for nearly 10 years, accepted a position as senior director of development with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. Matthew Wardell, the Reilly’s CEO since its inception in 2015, has stepped down from that role as he and his wife transition to Jacksonville but he will continue to serve as music director and conductor of the OSO and as an artistic advisor to the Reilly Arts Center.

The Reilly, which once was the City Auditorium, has been transformed into a cultural hub for the area. The Wardells were instrumental in the metamorphosis, guiding their team through an initial renovation and subsequent expansion of the arts center and taking over management of the historic Marion Theatre.

According to a news release from the Reilly, McComb is a nonprofit development and communications professional with more than 15 years of experience in leadership roles, including with the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Virtua Health Foundation, United Way of Marion County, AdventHealth Ocala and the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership Foundation.

She is a graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Her professional credentials include Certified Fundraising Executive and Six Sigma Yellow Belt. She has been actively involved on many community boards and is currently a Take Stock in Children volunteer mentor. She grew up in Apopka and was an actress, singer and organizer of many school productions. Her love for live music has made concert-going among her favorite activities to enjoy, along with traveling with her husband and their two children, the release noted.

The “Gazette” asked McComb why she pursued this new role.

“I love Ocala. I’m raising my family here and we enjoy all that the Reilly Arts Center and the Marion Theatre have to offer. I have an incredible amount of respect for what Pamela and Matt have built. I see the value this organization has for our growing community, and I knew I wanted to play a part in helping it be successful for decades to come. I’ve continuously challenged myself in my career and thankfully have a very supportive family. I am honored and grateful that this role would allow me the unique opportunity to combine my passion for music and the performing arts with my professional experience,” she said.

We also asked McComb what she would like for readers to know about her leadership style and about her personally.

“As a leader, my role is to ensure the team has the tools and support to be successful. That means being their biggest cheerleaders, helping them grow as professionals, and celebrating wins together. I try to be upfront and honest in my communication, approachable, and transparent. I also don’t take myself too seriously. You have to be willing to make mistakes and laugh at yourself from time to time,” she offered.

“My grandparents played a big role in my upbringing, so I’m a bit of an old soul. While I’ve always been a good communicator, I credit chorus and high school theater for helping me break out of my shell a bit. This is one reason I’m so passionate about giving children the opportunity to get involved in the performing arts. It helps build confidence, character, and experience in working with a variety of personalities, all towards a common goal. These are skills I have taken with me in my professional career,” she added.

As for what might lie ahead in the coming months, McComb said that “a big leadership transition like this can be challenging for both staff and supporters of an organization.”

“The most important thing I can do is listen, learn, and be open to feedback. I’ll prioritize getting out into the community to meet with our donors, corporate sponsors, and others who partner with the Reilly,” she stated.

“Pamela and Matt have been so forward-thinking with the recent additions of the NOMA Black Box and the Ocala Symphony Orchestra Community Music Conservatory. I’m excited to explore the full benefits these facilities offer our community. I’m looking forward to working alongside our board to see what the next three to five years will look like for the organization and develop a roadmap to get there,” she added.

The news release noted that Volpe has spent the last four years with the Reilly team developing systems and talent buying for the Marion Theatre. He has experience in arts management and the hospitality industry, owning, operating and consulting on many restaurants as well as being a touring drummer.

The “Gazette” asked Volpe how his new role might be different from what he has been doing.

“I think my new role expands on the work I’ve already been doing with the organization for the last four years. Rather than focusing mostly on the Marion Theatre, I’ll now be handling all the talent acquisition for three distinct rooms. This will require a more intentional and diverse approach, considering the varied aspects of each space. With the scaling efforts we’ve been making over the last year or so we have really invested in growing our internal operations. As it applies to me and my role, this means I will be overseeing a much larger team as we continue to reduce our reliance on third party vendors for services like sound, lighting, and artist relations,” he explained.

As for any immediate changes, he said that with the “significant leadership change already taking place, I think maintaining confidence in our brand is most important right now for both our staff and our community. Keeping that in my forethought I don’t anticipate any immediate sweeping changes. We’ve seen some incredible growth with the addition of the Marion Theatre, the Community Music Conservatory, and the introduction of the NOMA black box theatre, which has taught us a lot in a short time. This feels like a perfect time to catch our breath and focus on refining our systems and processes. We’ve got an amazing team here, and every day we are finding creative ways to improve efficiency and support our mission with fresh ideas.”

In terms of a long-range vision, Volpe said he wants to continue to elevate the Reilly into a cultural destination that captivates the local community and draws visitors from surrounding areas.

“My vision involves refining the distinctive identity of each of our spaces, and constantly enhancing the value we offer to our guests with new technologies, premium programming, and unique experiences. Most importantly, I strive to maintain a workplace that is highly sought after. I feel this is integral to our success, as it will enable us to attract and develop the most talented individuals in the industry, further solidifying our position as a leader in the cultural landscape,” he shared.

R.J. Jenkins, president of the Reilly Arts Center board of directors, spoke about the roles McComb and Volpe will play.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have Natalie in this role. She is smart, she is passionate, and she has deep professional experience in areas that will help fuel our continued success as an organization. Few things soothe the pangs of change like excellence, and Natalie is excellent,” Jenkins said.

“It has been inspiring to watch the historic Marion Theatre come to life under Adam’s leadership, and we couldn’t be happier that he will assume this expanded role so that our entire organization can benefit from his immense talents. Adam is one of the best things that has ever happened to the Reilly, and we look forward to the positive impact he will undoubtedly make in this new role,” he added.

According to Matt Wardell, the executive director job description was posted on several national industry sites, such as the League of American Orchestras and the Association of Performing Arts Professionals and job sites like LinkedIn and Google in mid-December.

“We had many inquiries, and more than a dozen qualified applicants responded to the job posting. The executive committee and several additional board members interviewed five candidates via Zoom, inviting three of them for in-person interviews. During those in-person interviews candidates toured the facilities and met separately for Q&A with our production, leadership, and development teams. After the final round of interviews, board and staff compared thoughts and notes from the process and unanimously selected Natalie as the new executive director,” Wardell stated. “The decision was made on Jan. 12 and ratified by our full board on Jan. 18.

The Reilly Arts Center, home to the OSO, is located at 500 NE 9th St. The Marion Theatre is at 50 S. Magnolia Ave.

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