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Kathy Panoff: The Long Arm of the Arts 

Women in the Arts

When Yo-Yo Ma takes the stage at the Carpenter Center on Feb 29 as part of the Modlin Center series, Kathy Panoff will undoubtedly be the most excited member of the audience. Even before she moved from Cincinnati in 1995 to take the job as director of the George M. Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond, Panoff was on the phone with the cellist's New York agent to check his availability. The agent laughed at her and at the thought of one of the world's most acclaimed musicians playing in some unknown and untested venue in Richmond, Va.

The fact that four years later Yo-Yo Ma will be playing his first concert in Richmond is evidence of Panoff's foresight, tenacity and most importantly, success, in building a reputation for UR's Modlin Center.

"Yo-Yo Ma is my coup," she says proudly. "We are one of the major presenters on the East Coast now."

Were Panoff the selfish sort, she would have booked Yo-Yo for the 600-seat Camp Concert Hall on the UR campus, instead of at the larger Carpenter Center. But doing so would severely limit the audience for the show and go against everything Panoff and the university are trying to achieve with the Modlin Center series — bring the widest variety of art to the widest audience possible. "Dr. Morrill [past president of the University] really wanted this facility to reach out into the community," she says. "I like to think of it as the long arm of the arts."

Panoff, 45, has been intimately involved with the arts her entire life. After playing the flute as a child and teen in school bands and youth orchestras in Northern Virginia, she attended the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati to earn a teaching degree and eventually a master's in conducting. She began her career as a school band instructor in Norfolk. After returning to Cincinnati for her master's degree, she went on to lead a high school band in Texas, winning numerous national and state awards in her first few years. "I topped out early," she says. "Within two years I had accomplished what band leaders spend whole lives trying to achieve."

Panoff returned to Cincinnati in 1982 and supported herself as a nightclub singer for a while before becoming group sales manager for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. That led to a five-year stint in public radio which led to another five years as managing director of the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. "I didn't know anything about managing a theater and had a $4 million budget to work with," she says. "I knew I could figure it out."

From there, she went on to become director of development for Boston's Celebrity Series, which presents about 80 arts events a year in five venues. She eventually returned to Cincinnati, where she opened her own marketing and consulting firm dealing mostly with arts clients and social service agencies.

Although she was enjoying the freedom her own business allowed her — and the flexible schedule that allowed her to pursue her newfound interest in ice dancing — the Modlin Center job was too tempting: a brand new state-of-the-art arts facility without a well-developed future plan. In addition to managing and programming events for the facility, Panoff would also have the opportunity to teach a class in arts management and work in a stimulating university setting.

"My staff [and I] get to work in an arts fantasy land," she says. " ... I am very lucky. This is my great cosmic
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