WilmingtonBiz Magazine

C-Suite Convo: Setting The Scene With Shane Fernando

By Vicky Janowski, posted Dec 14, 2023
Shane Fernando, CEO of Thalian Hall (incoming)
Shane Fernando will start the new year with a return to familiar surroundings.

On Jan. 2, Fernando starts his new role as CEO of Thalian Hall in downtown Wilmington. On Jan. 1, he officially departs his role as executive and artistic director of Cape Fear Community College’s Wilson Center, a venue he helped open in 2015. Fernando also served as vice president of advancement and the arts for the community college, where he has worked for the past decade. 

Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts is not a new venue for Fernando, who has served as trustee since 2009. 

Fundraising was a major part of Fernando’s time at CFCC. As head of advancement, he was responsible for donor relations and direct fundraising for the college through the CFCC Foundation.

Those fundraising chops also translated to his work with Thalian, where while he was board president, the facility established its endowment and planned giving programs. 

He was a member of the 2010 Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts Capital Committee, which raised over $4 million dollars toward the venue’s renovation and restoration projects. 

Previously he worked as director of campus life arts and programs at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Thalian launched a national search after longtime executive director Tony Rivenbark died in 2022. 

Rivenbark had headed up the historical building – which also until recently also housed city hall – for 42 years. He and Fernando worked closely together, with Fernando serving as a programming consultant for the center and overseeing the booking of its Main Attractions Series.

On Nov. 14, Thalian announced that Fernando was tapped to lead the center, built in 1858, into its next chapter.

When Fernando starts, his title will be CEO instead of the traditional executive director name. 

“This is an update which the organization made to realign with other peer venues across the country that utilize similar language for their executive leadership,” he said.

Fernando, a member of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), has been a director, property master and actor in more than 150 theater productions in Wilmington.

What prompted you to throw your name in the hat to lead Thalian Hall?
Fernando: “This is something that I have thought about for a very long time. As I have told others, it was extremely personal and from the heart. I have been feeling this pull to ‘come home’ to the place where my work began in this field over 30 years ago as a technician and performer. The Wilson Center is very strong – strong financially, strong team and so many exciting things on the horizon. Next year’s 10th PNC Broadway Series is almost ready and will be spectacular, a new exciting branding campaign and jingle are coming soon, the expansion of the venue is well underway and so many other wonderful things. That being said, when something is at the top of its game, that is the time to pass the baton and seek fresh challenges.”

What are some of your goals for the venue? 
Fernando: “It is such an exciting time for our region’s cultural life overall … Thalian Hall stands today at a major juncture in determining what her next 165 years look like, with expansion opportunities, powerful work coming from our regional production companies, including live performance art, dance, film, music, theater and the development of new work. Thalian Hall stands at the center of our regional culture, and it is time to determine what the Hall’s next 165 years look like.”

Will part of your work include deciding what to do with the space that the city of Wilmington moved out of this year as it moved to the former PPD headquarters building?
Fernando: “I expect that will be a major part of my responsibilities coming into the job pending the outcome of the city’s transition. The Hall’s performance spaces have been over-capacity for many years now and is unable to meet our regional need, so it will be exciting to create new spaces to support our regional artists.”

What are a couple of the biggest accomplishments you’ve had at CFCC since being there for nearly a decade?
Fernando: “Here are some accomplishments that make me proud: establishing a Broadway national touring house in the Cape Fear region; expanding the facility with the new event and residency center; creating one of the largest performing arts center education programs in the American South; establishing one of the most dedicated and innovative volunteer programs in the nation; having the center of this nature allow students to participate in the operations, serving as a laboratory for student learning.”

Do you have suggestions for how the area can take its arts offerings to the next level?
“We need more spaces that support the creation, development and performance of the live arts, whether music, dance or theater. Our regional scene and artists’ work has exploded, and our institutions and facilities need to rise the meet them.”
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