PRESTONSBURG – The Mountain Arts Center (MAC) is often considered Eastern Kentucky’s best family entertainment. The 1,044 seat theatre is home to Billie Jean Osborne’s Kentucky Opry and the Kentucky Opry Jr. Pros and host national headliners like Loretta Lynn, Ralph Stanley and Dwight Yoakam. The MAC’s arts education department provides individual private instruction for all ages. The facility also boasts a commercial recording studio, meeting rooms and an art gallery. The MAC is used to hosting headlining acts. However, this time it is the MAC itself that is making headlines. A new era is starting as the City of Prestonsburg is partnering with Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC) to jointly manage the operations of the faculty.
The MAC was formed in October 1996 as the dream of Billie Jean Osborne, a band teacher at Betsy Layne High School (BLHS). As BLHS Band Director, Osborne watched as one after the other talented musician walked through her door, however most left their musical aspirations in high school. Who ever heard of anyone from Eastern Kentucky making it big, at least very often? She was convinced the musicians in Eastern Kentucky was just as talented as they were in Branson, Nashville or anywhere in the world. With faith and the mantra of “if we build it, they will come”, she set off to make her dream of establishing a performing arts venue in Floyd County into action.
Over the years the MAC has sent many musicians on their way to fame. Children have developed a love for theatre and the performing arts as their school would bring field trips to the MAC to watch matinee performances of various programs. With programs such as the Kentucky Opry and Kentucky Opry Jr. Pros, and Front Porch Pickin’, individuals young and old alike have realized their musical dreams of performing in front of a packed house.
Keith Caudill, one of the founding members of the Kentucky Opry, has been at the helm for many years. Under his direction the MAC has become a self-supporting venue that host some of country and gospel music’s biggest acts.
“I have enjoyed my time at the MAC,” Caudill said. “I have met some wonderful people and talented musicians during my time here.”
As Keith Caudill gets ready for his next chapter in life, a much-needed and deserved retirement, things are changing for the MAC as well. Since its development, the Mountain Arts Center has always been operated as an independent entity by a board of directors.
“It is a win/win situation,” said Caudill. “The facility will now have access to the marketing team and funds of the college. When they want to pursue an idea, they will have the opportunity to pursue the idea 100 percent.”
“The only way we can grow is to build partnerships, to blur county lines and work together,” said BSCTC President Devin Stephenson. “It is important that the college is a vital part of every phase of economic community and workforce development. The country music influence here is big and as a musician I understand the impact the MAC through tourism promotions can have on our community. We hope our involvement can bring an education component, to promote music programs among students. We also hope to expand the genre of music acts that perform at the MAC. My wife and I come from a small town and we watched a community in a region divested by loss of coal jobs diversity and now they are providing advanced manufacturing in tier I, Tier II, and Tier III level provider to Mercedes, Honda and Toyota. They have turned things around and that can be done here as well.”
The partnership with BSCTC and the City of Prestonsburg will allow the MAC to experience continued growth.
“To be in partnership with the college will allow us to use some resources that were not available before,” said Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton. “Working together is the best solution for everyone involved.”
The City of Prestonsburg and Big Sandy Community and Technical College will announce the signing of the official agreement later this week.
Andrea Saddler is a reporter for The Floyd County Times. She can be reached at (606) 886-8506.