Bloomington’s new arts and entertainment director talks filling the arena and fixing a ‘toxic’ workplace at BCPA
Bloomington has hired a new manager to oversee operations at its two downtown entertainment venues.
Anthony Nelson has been the city’s business manager for seven years. After six years with Miller Park Zoo, he served as business manager for the city’s Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts. He also stepped in as acting zoo director and team leader for the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts (BCPA).
Nelson has a tough job. Until recently, the Grossinger Motors Arena was run by outside companies and constantly losing money. The former area directors stole municipal funds. The city abandoned its former arena management company at the start of the COVID pandemic.
The BCPA has had its own issues over the past year with several high-profile departures and allegations of a toxic work environment.
Nelson said he had officially been on the job for a week, but had been working for months to organize events at the two sites.
“We know we have a tough job ahead of us, but we’ve enjoyed hosting the BCPA season and can’t wait to add the arena to our list of shows we can book,” Nelson said in an interview on Sound Ideas. from WGLT.
Nelson said he was trying to bring in a good work culture after several high-profile departures over the past year. BCPA’s last artistic director, JongHun Kim, was fired for a series of alleged infractions, including workplace bullying.
According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, Kim was fired on February 22, a month after being placed on paid administrative leave for a variety of reported offenses, including workplace bullying, misusing a city purchase card (P-card), and violating the city’s drug and alcohol free workplace policy.
A city employee who worked with Kim reported to Human Resources that Kim made abusive and misogynistic comments about her and said she would be fired if she complained.
“I’ve tried to defend myself and I’m honestly scared of the backlash that might come, but when I vomit at work due to (the) toxic work environment, it doesn’t feel right,” she said. stated in a correspondence to the city. Human resources department.
The employee said Kim also drank alcohol at a Bloomington farmers’ market in front of co-workers and failed to pay for the alcohol. When she confronted him about it, Kim replied that he was managing her, so “look away like I said,” the document states.
Kim is now listed as associate director of education for the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston. When reached by phone, Kim said he “strongly disagrees” with all of the allegations raised in the report and said he was already looking for another job when he was made redundant.
“When I heard this news (of a complaint filed against him), a bitter taste came into my mouth, I would say metaphorically, and I started looking for another job,” he said.
Kim said the incident of his drinking meant he wasn’t supposed to be working that day, but was helping out temporarily.
Kim said he believed the complaints against him were retaliation for his efforts to evict former BCPA director Jim Mack.
“After Jim Mack left, there was a lot of work drama there,” Kim said.
Mack left in January following a domestic battery charge. The municipal authorities did not indicate the reason for his departure. BCPA production manager Ryan High left at the same time.
Nelson, the BCPA’s new director, said he’s been working to gain buy-in by helping staff build and book this year’s lineup.
“There was some discomfort at the start when you lose your leadership and you lose people in higher positions. We all put on a bit more weight, but I think we’ve moved past that and the staff have been great and I think the culture there is good,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the city plans to save nearly $500,000 a year by merging most operations of the arena and the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. The city combined box office, operations and other staff to run the new venues, he said. Previously, the city had the arena run by private companies.
“By being able to bring them into the city, we will also have the other departments of the city providing services to help us as well. It will be a city effort and a department effort,” Nelson said.
Nelson added that there’s a chance the venue could make a profit, but said the city also needed to weigh the overall economic impact the events would bring to restaurants, retail stores and hotels.
“When we book events, we’re not going to just say we want 14 gigs and we don’t care about the cost of the gig we’re bringing no matter what. We’ll make sure to do the work behind the scenes to make sure it’s going to be successful and it’s something that makes sense financially,” he said.
Nelson noted that country music acts accounted for 19 of the top 20 arena events, but he wants to add more diverse musical acts, including pop and hip-hop, and other types of entertainment, such as comedians and sports.
Nelson said he still plans to hire up to seven more staff members to complement the arena’s entertainment lineup, adding that he expects a full return to normal for events in the arena from next year.
Nelson said the city is still researching how well sports would suit the site. It has hosted indoor football, professional hockey and basketball. Nelson said minor league basketball didn’t make sense for the arena because it would compete for fans with Illinois State basketball teams.