MAKING ROOM FOR A NEW GENERATION OF ARTS LEADERS

Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z… the alphabet soup of generational classifications continues to befuddle so many of us born not long after the end of the Prelapsarian Age. But to speak plainly and to the point I want to focus on those arts leaders that could easily be the children or even grandchildren of us Baby Boomers that have had the honor of leading arts organizations during the best years of our lives. Those artistic children and grandchildren of ours could be anyone born between 1975 or thereabouts and 1995 or thereabouts: mostly young men and women in their twenties or thirties or early forties, for whom room must be made so that they can re-invigorate the arts in our country. Whatever they may lack in on-the-job experience they can acquire while they bring to their various jobs energy, enthusiasm, and creativity.

Sometimes room is made because house-cleaning is in order. Three years ago, 42-year-old Edward Stafford was appointed Artistic Director of the New York City Ballet, succeeding 73-year-old Peter Martins, who was asked to resign after being accused of sexual harassment.

Jacob G. Padrón, the 38-year-old Latino now at the helm of New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre came to his new position in 2018, succeeding septuagenarian Gordon Edelstein, who was asked to resign after being accused of sexual harassment.

James Levine music director of the Metropolitan Opera from 1976 to 2016 was terminated in 2018, aged 75, over sexual misconduct allegations.

Levine was 33 years old when he assumed the directorship of the largest musical organization in the United States. Stafford rose from the ranks of the New York City Ballet gradually, while Padrón came to his job at the Long Wharf handpicked from among several candidates after years at the helm of his Sol Project, which he founded while in his twenties.

At other times succession is brought about as a natural process of organizational renewal, as is the case with Jonathon Heyward, the newly appointed 29-year-old music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Heyward is biracial, in addition to being the youngest ever principal conductor of a major American orchestra.

The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra recently hired 28-year-old Evan Gidley for the position of Executive Director of the CCO, effective May 23, 2022, and just weeks before the orchestra begins its summer season. Gidley will be responsible for managing the company’s operations and its financial resources, concert productions, musician relations, fundraising, and marketing – the kind of multi-tasking job that older arts administrators would balk at taking on.

In other instances, arts leaders sprint out of the gate without having any predecessors into whose shoes they must step. Such is the case with Tanya Bravo, the Executive Artistic Director of the Juggerknot Theatre Company, an interactive theater, and performance collective with a focus on the development of new works by emerging playwrights, that this young Latina has led for some time.

In some instances,succession is not part of the mix,as is the case with Michel Hausman, aged 40, the founding artistic director of Miami New Drama, a six-year-young theatre company based in Miami Beach that focuses on producing new works and Nicholas Richberg, the company’s Managing Director, aged 43, who has been a regular fixture of the South Florida theatre scene as one of the region’s most valued actors.

Sometimes opportunities for young arts leaders come available after serving in secondary positions, such as assistant conductors in symphony orchestras or marketing directors in theatre companies. But often appointments to the top positions in arts organizations are made after extended searches.

For years, South Florida’s Gablestage was led by the late Joseph Adler, one of South Florida’s theatre pioneers, after whose death a nation-wide search brought to the job of artistic director Bari Newport, a stage director in her early forties and former artistic director of the Penobscot Theatre Company now having just finished her first season.

The MET’s Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin landed his plum job at the MET at the age of 36 after major tenures as music director of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

In the field of visual arts museums, the name of Max Hollein, now the 49-year-old director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, made history when he was hired to lead the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt, Germany at age 31. Since then, Alex Gartenfeld has led the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami, Florida from age 27 to the present. Joshua Helmer, who leads the Erie Art Museum in Pennsylvania is 28 years old. Both Helmer and Gartenfeld have made well-earned gains in a field largely dominated by white, middle-aged men in their fifties and sixties.

The television star Joan Collins once said something along the lines of age being just a number and totally irrelevant unless one happens to be a bottle of wine. When it comes to the directorship of arts organizations, good young leaders, like good young wine, should be taken, their ages disregarded, and allowed to mature, after the old wine has been consumed or worse, begun to turn to vinegar.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

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