Cary, NC – Lyman Collins joined the Town of Cary as cultural arts manager in 1999, and after 20 years, he is now retiring. Collins looked back on his history with the town and his role as an arts evangelist.
20 Years in Cary
Collins’ final day as cultural arts manager was Wednesday, July 31, 2019, with that role now filled by William Lewis. When he joined the town in 1999, plans for Koka Booth Amphitheatre’s designs were just finalized and Collins said he was largely hired because of his facilities experience and he would be able to oversee the new venue. But in these past 20 years, the amphitheatre has changed from its original plans.
“The original idea was for this to be a facility for the North Carolina Symphony,” Collins said, explaining how the amphitheatre’s layout mirrors the previous set-ups on that same spot where the symphony had played in the past. “But quickly, we saw that we can do much more than that. Now it’s much more of a cultural place, a touchstone.”
Koka Booth Amphitheatre’s uses started to change when Collins said members of Cary’s Indian community asked the Town of Cary for a Diwali festival in 2001. The first year, the Diwali festival was held in the not-yet-titled Herbert C. Young Community Center, but turn-out far exceeded expectations. So for future years, up to now, the festival was held at Koka Booth Amphitheatre.
“It shows how the venue is able to adapt to events and it’s become a significant part of Cary,” Collins said. “Also, by having the Town of Cary involved, it adds that key component of how we look at all cultural events. We want them to be a true community event. It signals to people that this event is for everyone, not only members of a particular group.”
But Collins’ strongest memories of Koka Booth Amphitheatre come from its first year. Originally, the dedication was planned for September 15, 2001, but after the terrorist attacks days earlier, plans were changed and Koka Booth Amphitheatre instead became the site of Cary’s 9/11 commemoration.
“Local councils and churches got together to hold a community gathering,” Collins said. “It became a true ceremony for remembrance and community, and it made it a special place for a lot of people.”
Evangelist for the Arts
From his time in Cary, Collins said he is most proud of the staff he worked with, saying “they will continue to carry on great things.” But as far as programs created during his time, he said he will always cherish both the Applause! Cary Youth Theatre and the Marvelous Music series, which originally started in the Herbert C. Young Community Center before moving to the Cary Arts Center.
“I had the belief that, if you provide the motivation, they will come,” he said.
Collins also said he is very proud of Cary’s new public arts programs, though he said he wants to see them expanded.
“To make a place feel special, public art does that the best,” he said.
The arts in Cary have changed significantly since Collins started as the cultural arts manager. The Page-Walker Arts and History Center had not been completed yet, the Herbert C. Young Community Center was simply known as the community center and Cary’s only public arts space was at the Jordan Hall Arts Center.
“It held lots of classes but it was very small,” he said. “Now, the Cary Arts Center is 10 times that size with 10 times as many programs.”
Even after his time working with the Town of Cary is complete, Collins said he still wants to be involved in the arts, and not just in Cary exclusively.
“I consider myself an arts evangelist,” he said. “I’m a powerful believer in the arts to change lives and change communities.”
Story by Michael Papich. Photos by the Town of Cary and Lindsey Chester.