When Chris Eure retired from her job as executive director of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic, she looked forward to launching her own note card design business.
She had no idea that her bloom-where-you’re-planted work ethic was about to put her creative skills to use in a completely different direction.
As 2011 drew to a close, the former executive director of First Night Virginia and former Junior League of Charlottesville president accepted a new challenge — and started serving as executive director of the Paramount Theater.
“My mother instilled that drive in me and my sisters to make your community better than when you arrived,” she said. “I grew up in a military family, so we were taught that when you land in your new spot, you put down your roots, and you find where you can be helpful.”
Looking back at the growth the Paramount has seen over the past eight years — from hosting about 80 events a year to more than 300 — Eure sees an organization living up to its potential as a force for good in the Charlottesville community. She believes in the power of the arts to bring people from diverse backgrounds together, and she relishes the way the place she fondly calls “the Theater” offers common ground.
“We have heard folks say that they consider the Theater to be Charlottesville’s living room; we love that,” Eure said. “Just picture sitting around the largest TV screen in Central Virginia with about 1,000 of your closest friends — or soon to be your friends — experiencing the same event or experience. That is a real equalizer, and we love it when that happens.”
In addition to a busy schedule of concerts, comedy shows, film screenings, family programs and live broadcasts of theater, opera and dance performance series, the Paramount presents events for the Virginia Festival of the Book and the Virginia Film Festival.
And in recent years, the Paramount has welcomed local residents to a growing number of free gatherings. Some are planned, such as broadcasts of World Cup soccer matches and ACC Tournament basketball games; others are prompted by circumstances, serendipity and a sense that residents consider them important and value the chance to experience them together.
“We have introduced free events and look for the opportunity to offer them meaningfully to the community,” Eure said. “Whether it is streaming coverage to the overflow crowd who couldn’t get into the [Sprint] Pavilion to see President [Barack] Obama or the Final Four championship game of the UVa basketball [team], the Theater is there to welcome the crowds into the Theater at no charge, just to be together as a community.”
For Eure, being part of a community means opening the doors in good times and bad.
“Most of the times are in celebration, but we are also here for our community in times of sorrow,” she said. “I know I will never forget the day that we served as the site for Heather Heyer’s memorial service.
Heyer, an anti-racism protester, died in a car attack on Aug. 12, 2017, the day of the Unite the Right rally. More than 1,000 people attended her memorial service.
“While we [worked] in grief and sorrow, we knew we had to be there for our community, and I was so proud of how our staff stepped up to make that day the best it could be under the saddest of circumstances,” Eure said.
Back in 1992, Paramount board member Elsie W. Thompson was part of a team hoping to restore a then-crumbling theater to its former glory as a downtown destination.
“We dreamed it could be what it has become, and she realized it,” Thompson said of Eure.
Eure and her team have worked hard to make sure people of all backgrounds feel welcome and safe at the Paramount, especially since the violent events of August 2017.
Thompson pointed to Eure’s transparency about the theater’s past participation in segregation, which limited black patrons to the balcony and required them to get there through a narrow staircase from the Third Street entrance. She said Eure is “helping our community deal with its past and find ways to heal. Chris has sought to be inclusive and reaches out to everyone.”
To be able to offer the free events, the Paramount has to be able to fill its coffers, no matter what challenges the economy brings over time. Another one of Eure’s nominators praised her ability to keep bringing donors on board to help ensure high-quality programming.
“It is a nonprofit, so this is a struggle,” said David T. Gies, chairman of the Paramount board. “I don’t think people realize how dazzling the success of the Paramount is — or how dazzling the non-implosion of the Paramount is.”
“Sustainability is what probably makes me the proudest,” Eure said. “We have been in the black since 2011, and hope to continue as such so we can be sure the Theater will be around for generations to come. That is what drives me every day to work better, stronger, smarter — so we can preserve this iconic community treasure.”
Eure may not have much time for designing note cards these days, but she finds deep satisfaction in making sure the arts remain an accessible and unifying force in the community.
“Arts are the great equalizer, and the Paramount was built to be just that,” Eure said.