When Stephen Cummins looks back on his seven years at the helm of the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage, he'll think of all the artists, musicians and actors who have walked through the center's doors.
But he'll especially remember the times when the center went out into the community.
Take, for instance, the Corrido Project, when a member of a Grammy-nominated Mexican folk music ensemble came to West Chicago schools to show students how to write and perform their own music.
"It's one of the richest experiences I can think of," Cummins said. "It's this idea that it doesn't have to be at the MAC. We can take it to an assisted-living center, we can take it to a library, we can take it to a high school. You can meet people where they are with art and culture."
Cummins on Thursday stepped down as director of the MAC, the college's performing arts and art exhibition space in Glen Ellyn, to take a new job as director of university public events for California State University in Chico, Calif.
Cummins said it was a difficult decision to leave COD, but he's pursuing a "great opportunity" at California State, where he will oversee operations of the Chico Performances series and two National Public Radio stations. His family also will be closer to extended family members in northern California.
"I had a wonderful run here at the MAC. I think what we've done here and what the MAC will continue to do is fantastic," Cummins said.
The center is undergoing a $35 million renovation project that will include improvements to the front entrance, roof and skylight systems, box office facilities and an enhanced concession and bar area. It also will include the new Cleve Carney Art Gallery that will primarily display contemporary art.
Construction work began in the fall of 2012 and is scheduled for completion this December.
"Ultimately it's going to blow people away when they walk in," Cummins said. "It was a wonderful space before, but it's going to be so special and unique."
And in the summer of 2014, construction will be complete on a new outdoor theater.
The first scheduled performance in the new MAC will be a New Year's Eve concert by the New Philharmonic, the 80-member professional orchestra that faced an uncertain future earlier this year when COD officials canceled three of the orchestra's off-campus concerts in February and March.
The action was prompted by waning attendance at earlier events and overall declining revenues at the MAC. Cummins said at the time the ongoing construction at the MAC affected the center's typical operating model.
The college's annual goal to patrons was to raise $150,000 to guarantee the orchestra remained at the MAC. The college would pick up the rest of the costs.
Since then, patrons have pledged enough money that will ensure the New Philharmonic stays at the MAC through 2016, Cummins said.
"When you talked to the audience about the possibility the New Philharmonic might not be here in the future, that's when you found out how much people really care about the orchestra," he said. "For a long time we were in a situation where (financial support) could be provided by the college. But also as these ensembles at the MAC have grown, we really outgrew the support of the college and really needed the support of the community."
Before Cummins came to COD, he oversaw the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for six years.
The college will be conducting a national search to find his successor, with the goal of having a new director by the time the MAC officially reopens in February 2014, said Joe Collins, COD's executive vice president.
An interim director is expected to be appointed in the meantime. It's possible COD will hire a consultant to help conduct the search and run the MAC at the same time -- the procedure that happened before Cummins' selection in 2006.
"This new position is an excellent opportunity for Stephen, and we wish him the best of luck," COD President Robert Breuder said in a statement. "Stephen has shown vision and dedication during his seven-year tenure at the MAC."
Art: COD will conduct national search to find new director