As the dawn of March 1st comes around again, so does the annual celebration of Women’s History Month! Women’s history dates back to before we even had documentation for it, as ladies have been empowering others for longer than time even remembers. But, the official recognition didn’t come about until Congress passed Public Law 100-9 in 1987, assigning March as “Women’s History Month”.
To celebrate this month and the impact that women have had on our organization as a whole, the Academy is focusing on the past, present, and future of women’s history.
Prior to the Academy Center of the Arts becoming what it is today, there was the Academy of Music Theatre and the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center. Mary B. Brumbaugh was the unique and talented Executive Director of the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center who brought so much passion not only for the arts, but also for the people she knew. On the topic of Mary’s legacy, one of her former employees, Shelbie Filson, remembers her fondly. Shelbie was the Performing Arts Coordinator underneath Mary’s leadership, noting how she was her first introduction to what a boss should be like. “She created a very welcoming environment,” Shelbie notes, “not only for staff but, for volunteers and the public.”
Mary was a celebrator of life. Shelbie recalls how much Mary loved her birthday, and how the whole staff would celebrate the festivity for the entire month. “She loved everything about the arts: dance, art, the productions,” Shelbie states. “She was tireless, she even directed as well. Mary really helped to build new programs and promote the arts for all ages.”
A story Shelbie remembers is centered on how creative Mary truly was. She begins, “Once we brought in an Irish percussion group to perform one summer night, and after maybe 5 minutes, the power went out so we only had a battery-operated floodlight on in the theatre. Once we realized the power wasn’t going to come back on and the theater was quickly getting warm, Mary asked the audience to leave the theatre and go into the main gallery which had large windows that allowed dusk’s light in and two doors that allowed cooler air in.”
She continues, “Then she asked the Tech Director, Facilities Manager, and me to go find all the candles we could; then we lit them all, placing them in a line between the musicians and patrons so the group could continue their performance in there – it was kind of magical and took the concert to a whole new level.”
Sadly, Mary is no longer with us, but her legacy and creativity live on. Throughout the merge from the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center into the Academy and beyond, Mary’s passion for life and the arts echoes loudly, even still today.
Currently, our organization relies heavily on three women in particular who help keep the Academy afloat. The roles of our Chief Financial Officer, Chief Programming Officer, and Chief Operating Officer are all filled by three women who have certainly made their own impactful history during their time at the Academy.
Kimberly Morey, Chief Financial Officer, began working at the Academy in 2016 after finding community in Lynchburg through taking classes at the May Carter Pottery Studio. “In my previous career, I ran my department, but I always had to get approval for everything from the Business Manager,” she states. “Now, I wanted to be that Business Manager, so I got my master’s degree in Accounting.”
“I believe in my field of finance and accounting, being a female gives me an advantage in that I can envision more than the black and white of the accounting numbers,” she notes. “Being skilled in my trade, but also able to evaluate situations from the female perspective, allows me to make decisions and provide guidance that I believe advances our mission to a greater degree than might otherwise occur.”
Tabitha Abbott, Chief Operating Officer, has been with the Academy for four years and worked with several surrounding Lynchburg businesses for most of her life. “Working for the Academy as the COO is my dream job,” she states.
“I always joke that females tend to be more organized, which I think is one of my biggest assets to the Academy,” says Tabitha. “Overall, one of the things I am most proud of when I consider the culture of the Academy is that I think I would be in the same position no matter my gender, race, or color,” she continues, “Our organization strives to be a place of equal opportunity and inclusive to all, and executive positions are not excluded from this philosophy.”
Chief Programming Officer, Michelline Hall, worked at the Academy for fourteen years as a contracted art teacher before she moved into her full-time role of CPO in July of 2021.
“Having diversity inside of leadership promotes the production of new ideas, enhances collaborative leadership, and provides a new set of outcomes,” she claims. “In this era, flexibility, empathy and adaptation are key to staying relevant and connected to our community.”
As for the future of the Academy, women continue to excel in their leadership roles. Upon entering the year 2022, the Academy welcomed new Board President, Elizabeth Stroud.
“I first became involved with the Academy through my work at Moore & Giles, a sponsor of the Academy,” she states. “My colleague, Daryl Calfee, introduced me to Geoff, and together the three of us founded MIX, a young donor’s group of the Academy, in 2016.”
In addition to being the current ACOA Board President, Elizabeth is also the Vice President at the aforementioned local leather company, Moore & Giles. “As a graduate of an all women’s university, Hollins, female leadership is ingrained in my very being,” she says.
For the future of the Academy, Elizabeth has big plans and continues to grow alongside the organization. She notes that her vision for the Academy is to “continue to fulfill the mission of serving our community through arts and culture.” She continues by saying, “I’m able to clearly see in my own life, as well as my children’s lives, how impactful arts and culture can be to mental well-being, and I am excited to be able to share that with the greater Lynchburg community.”
All roles inside of an organization are valuable, but getting there might be harder for some rather than others. Women have always had trials and tribulations within their professional lives, but the way there is getting a little more paved with each and every day. In celebration of a tedious journey to gender equality inside as well as outside the workplace, we take this time in honoring all of the women who make their own marks in the world, in both big ways and small.