Arts & Culture

After 21 years leading ‘community jewel,’ Hilton Head arts center president retires

After 21 years with the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina on Hilton Head Island, Kathleen Bateson is retiring as the center’s president and CEO, according to a news release from the South Carolina Arts Commission.

During her tenure, Bateson oversaw a massive expansion of the center’s offerings and its public support. It became the state’s largest professional theater, producing over 110 plays, and contributions of Hilton Head public dollars increased from $124,000 to $400,000 in just the past four years.

Chief operating officer Jeffrey Reeves will become president and CEO on Jan. 1, the release said, while Bateson will remain with the arts center as executive artistic producer until June 30.

Earlier this year, Bateson received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts, the highest arts honor in South Carolina, the release said.

She was also recently named to the S.C. Arts Foundation board of directors.

Bob Lee, a two-time chairman of the arts center board of trustees, said her departure will leave a “hole in the hearts” of those who worked with her, but that “she has assembled a skillful, capable team who will sustain the level of excellence she has created at this community jewel.”


Public funding for the arts center

The arts center has long been a hot topic for local leaders.

In 2016, the Hilton Head Island Town Council approved a controversial $575,000 request for a new lighting system. While some council members feared the center would be forced to shut its doors if the existing system failed, others worried the allocation would set a tricky precedent.

“Once you (approve) that, you’re sort of opening the flood gates for all other types of non-profits to come forward when they have needs,” former council member and mayoral candidate Kim Likins said in September 2018. She voted against the request.

And it did open the flood gates, sort of.

Earlier this year, the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra got a $50,000 lighting system for free from the Town of Hilton Head Island after going directly to the town’s finance and administrative committee with its request.

As for the arts center, about 9% of its $4.2 million total budget under Bateson came from the town’s accommodations tax grant program, which allocates tax revenue to the organizations that drive tourism.

In 2018, the center received $400,000 from the grant program for marketing and programming. Although the center has often cited deferred maintenance as a problem for its sound and lighting systems, the plan for the 2018 funds “does not include any supplementary facility maintenance requests.”

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.