Pam Gallina

April 30, 2002
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MUSKEGON — After helping Cherry County Playhouse get back on its feet financially, Pam Gallina now finds herself planning its future.

A fund-raising and public relations pro, Gallina's job initially was to help the theater company erase $320,000 in debt that threatened its very existence. With that task accomplished, playhouse directors decided to ask Gallina to stay on as president.

Gallina, a lover of the arts who's worked in the past for Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, eagerly accepted.

"I really couldn't turn them down. They are so passionate about the theater and really want it to work," Gallina said. "And I'm always up for a challenge."

The challenge for Gallina, a Spring Lake resident who started with the playhouse on Jan. 28, presently consists of formulating a five-year strategic plan that will chart a new course for Cherry County Playhouse, which faced closure this winter if it had been unable to cover the debt.

Though early in her tenure, Gallina already foresees a future for Cherry County Playhouse that includes forging new corporate partnerships and sponsorships with the business community, as well as ties with performing arts departments at Grand Valley State University, where she works as an adjunct communications professor.

An initiative with the college could include both performance and backstage roles for drama students in annual summer productions and involve students working in fund raising and marketing.

"We're looking at partnering with the university any way we can," she said. "This is summer-stock theater. It's just a fabulous opportunity for the local students to learn from the pros."

On the fund-raising front, Gallina hopes to further Cherry County Playhouse's financial support in West Michigan by focusing on the role the arts play in the area's economic base. Arts are a crucial part of any community's quality of life that helps to lure new businesses and professionals to town, she said.

"The arts play a role in the desirability of an area. You're not going to attract top-notch people if you do not have a good quality of life," Gallina said. "We're all connected. We're all community partners."

Taking over at Cherry County Playhouse furthers Gallina's involvement in the arts that includes stints at Opera Grand Rapids and the Grand Rapids Art Museum. The involvement marked a career change for Gallina, who for years worked in the aviation industry.

While she always had an interest in the arts during high school and her early college years, Gallina put it aside when she "got hooked" on aviation.

"It all went by the wayside. It all went into aviation," said Gallina, a licensed pilot whose career includes doing traffic reports from the air for WOOD radio in the mid-1970s

Gallina worked during the 1970s and 1980s with her husband, Robert, who was a partner in the former Northern Air Services Inc. in Grand Rapids. They continued with the company after it was sold to AMR Corp. in 1986.

By 1989, Gallina opted to chart a new course. She decided to return to college and complete a journalism degree she had begun working on at Grand Valley State University in the early 1970s. While working on her undergraduate degree, she started volunteering at the Grand Rapids Art Museum — a move that would eventually lead to a new career path.

"I was tired of aviation and wanted to do something different, and I've always loved the arts," she said. "It kind of evolved from there."

Gallina earned her degree from GVSU in 1993 and worked from 1992 to 1994 as a free-lance writer, before returning to aviation from 1994 to 1995 as office manager and operations administrator at Northern Air in Grand Rapids.

In 1997, after earning a master's degree in communications from Michigan State University, Gallina was offered a full-time position at the Grand Rapids Art Museum as marketing and public relations coordinator. She was later promoted to marketing and PR director.

Leaving the museum in 1999, Gallina joined Wondergem Consulting, a Grand Rapids public relations firm, where the projects she worked on included an Opera Grand Rapids fund-raiser. Her position as project manager and senior consultant at Wondergem led to a position as development director at Opera Grad Rapids, where she worked for about a year until last spring.

During 2001, a friend introduced Gallina to Chris McQuigan, the head of the Community Foundation of Muskegon County. McQuigan passed on Gallina's resume to Mike Olthoff, the chief executive officer of Nichols Paper in Muskegon and chairman of the board for Cherry County Playhouse.

That exchange led to Gallina's work with the company as an adviser as it sought late last year to deal with its heavy debt that threatened its existence. With the problem resolved through a fund-raiser that covered half of the $320,000 and debtors forgiving the remaining amount, the Cherry County board decided to proceed with the planned 2002 season, remain in Muskegon and offer Gallina the position as president.

Attracting her to the position is not only her love for the arts and the potential she believes Cherry County Playhouse holds, but the revitalization going on in Muskegon with its numerous development and redevelopment projects occurring or planned in downtown and the adjacent waterfront.

She calls Muskegon "one of the best kept secrets in West Michigan."

"It's fabulous what's happening here," Gallina said. "This is where it's at. This is where it's going to be."

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