Arena makes push for Brown exhibit

To be a big-league music venue, the James Brown Arena needs to have more to do with its namesake than just a plastic sign and a plaque, Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority member Johnny Hensley says.

He floated several ideas to sell tickets at Thursday's meeting of the Marketing, Entertainment & Public Relations Committee, which he chairs. Among the suggestions include holding a James Brown impersonator contest, putting some of his memorabilia on display and consistently invoking the name of Soul Brother No. 1 to bring in top artists.

At the meeting, he suggested moving to the arena the Augusta Museum of History's James Brown exhibit after it closes. The arena could charge admission to tourists, he said, and authority member William Fennoy suggested selling Mr. Brown's CDs.

But the museum won't be ready to give up its display soon, maybe never, Director Nancy Glaser said.

The museum has seen a 40 percent increase in traffic, much of it out-of-town visitors, since opening the exhibit in May, she said. It has eight of Mr. Brown's suits, his Bibles, posters, vinyl records and items left at the singer's Broad Street statue after his 2006 death.

Ms. Glaser said Mr. Brown's estate and some of his family members, friends and band mates loaned the items under arrangements that are renewable each year. The exhibit is scheduled to last at least until May 2011, she said.

"I'm hoping it will go on much, much longer," Ms. Glaser said.

Told of her comments, Mr. Hensley said his fall-back plan is to seek help from Mr. Brown's children and try to create another exhibit from scratch.

An entertainer himself who was lead singer of Johnny Hensley and the Red Hots before working in promotions and now real estate with RE/MAX of Augusta, Mr. Hensley is in his second month on the authority. He was appointed by Commissioner Jimmy Smith to replace Freddie Sanders. Mr. Hensley said the strength of Mr. Brown's name should be used to recruit big-name artists.

"I'm going to do everything in my power to get shows back into Augusta," he said.

He suggested ads in newspapers in cities where entertainers live, such as Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, Nashville and Atlanta, saying "the James Brown Arena wants you," and asking them what it will take to bring them to Augusta.

"Some of these artists, I've got to believe, will say, 'This is interesting,' " Mr. Hensley said.

Arena and Bell Auditorium marketing director Kayla Ott, an employee of management company Global Spectrum, said booking decisions are made not by artists, but their agents.

"I think the main thing we need to show them is that we can sell tickets," she said.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.