Rich Jorn is no longer the RiverPark Center’s executive director, a position he’d held since November 2019. RPC Board Chair Scott McCain said that Jorn officially departed on August 10, saying it was a “personnel matter.”
“Because it is a personnel matter, I won’t be commenting any further on his separation other than his departure date,” McCain said.
McCain said the RiverPark Center’s Board of Directors made a plan to continue the organization’s flow. That includes McCain serving as the interim executive director.
“In the interim, I and our Board will be supporting our staff, as ‘the show must go on’ and will. We have a good staff and they know their roles,” McCain said.
As board chair, McCain said his job is to lead the board and top-level management on a journey that protects, preserves, and sustains the RiverPark Center long-term as they continue implementing and adjusting their strategic plan.
Jorn declined to comment on his departure or his time as the executive director.
Jorn came to RPC with over two decades of arts management and production experience, including serving as the artistic director of the Effingham Performing Arts Center in Effingham, Illinois.
After taking the helm in 2019, Jorn was challenged with leading RPC through the pandemic when performing arts saw a downtick in attendance due to social distancing and pandemic restrictions.
Over the next couple of years, Jorn created programming to help generate funding for RPC with the GhostLight Lounge. The Lounge was an adult-only space that hosted events, including karaoke, comedy shows, and drag shows.
The drag shows were held for several months and were some of the more profitable events at the Lounge. However, in mid-2022 a group of citizens began a semi-private and later more public push, calling for the RPC to either remove the shows from its programming or to lose funding from the City and County governments.
Jorn said that he wouldn’t stop the shows as they promote diversity.
“Theatre organizations and performing arts organizations across the country have been making this move towards diversity, equity, and inclusion,” he said in December of 2022. “And it’s showing to me that both the RiverPark and Owensboro are ready to move along with that as well, and that our community is calling for that.”
Also during that interview, Jorn addressed his approach to theatre and its role in a community.
“Art is what gives us our humanity,” Jorn said. “It’s a celebration of us as human beings. It’s our emotions. We go into a theatre as individuals and then for that moment — whether it’s people wearing outrageous costumes and wigs and makeup and singing or lip-synching to their favorite song or if it’s a symphony or a play or a TED talk — in that moment of live entertainment we become one community. … I’m an advocate for that and everywhere I go that’s what I’m going to push for.”
At that time, McCain said of Jorn, “Rich was hired in late 2019 with a directive from the Board to expand, increase, and improve programming at RPC, and he has done exactly that while faced with the adversity brought on by the COVID pandemic which he had no control over.”
McCain further said at the time, “While we appreciate, encourage, and take seriously feedback from the community on how RiverPark can be better and serve all our stakeholders and patrons, at the end of the day we are going to make every effort to do the next right thing and protect our character and integrity and preserve our mission. We understand our responsibility and don’t mind being held accountable, but we won’t be swayed from our mission and programming by a small minority of non-like minded individuals.
Earlier this summer, Jorn admitted the GhostLight Lounge had some successful events but was not turning an overall profit — which in part led the Daviess County Fiscal Court to cut all funding from the organization. Fiscal Court in previous years allocated $12,500 to the RPC, citing reasons such as losing money, creating something “divisive,” and not finding a way to lease the Turley building.
Shortly after that, RPC officials said they had changed the business model for the GhostLight Lounge, as they were no longer hosting their own events but were willing to rent the space out.
In April 2023, County Commissioner Larry Conder said he felt the RiverPark Center had “chosen not to make a profit,” given that the Turley building was not leased at the time.
McCain said Friday that Jorn’s tasks didn’t include focusing on the retail space of the Turley building.
“Rich’s role was operating a performing arts center, not being distracted or consumed by commercial real estate type deals and leases related to the Turley Building,” McCain said.
McCain said that responsibility fell on himself and Assistant City Manager Lelan Hancock, who is also an RPC board member. McCain said they attempted for 2-3 years and had no success filling the location because “big money [has] gotta be spent.”
The Turley building has since been leased to the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum to open the Kentucky Guitar Works at the Center for Lutherie — a deal McCain said he had been working on for some time now.