Arts groups in Milwaukee are used to dealing with turnover – it’s the nature of the beast. But the 2008-2009 season will introduce even more fresh faces than usual. Along with a handful of smaller-scale galleries and museums (see Judith Ann Moriarty’s visual arts preview on page 22), at least five major arts institutions in Milwaukee have new leaders on board as a sixth, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, prepares to welcome a new Music Director and a new Pops Conductor in 2009.
Perhaps the most familiar new face to the Milwaukee arts scene is one known worldwide for composing, conducting and arranging – Marvin Hamlisch, the new Principal Pops Conductor for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Hamlisch’s distinguished career is notable for any number of reasons; he has won virtually every music award that exists, including three Oscars, four Grammys, four Emmys, a Tony and three Golden Globe awards, plus a Pulitzer Prize for his groundbreaking show, A Chorus Line. Hamlisch is an enthusiastic advocate of the power of music to bring people together. “Music can make a difference,” he says. “Music is truly an international language, and I hope to contribute by widening communication as much as I can.”
To further propel the momentum for its upcoming 50th anniversary season, world-renowned conductor Edo de Waart will assume his position as Music Director of the MSO with the 2009-2010 season, but anticipation of his arrival is already feverish. de Waart has conducted every major orchestra in the world, and Time Magazine called him “one of the world’s most accomplished and sought-after conductors.” He is currently Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and Conductor Laureate of the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland.
Wisconsin is not totally new to de Waart: he currently lives in Middleton with his family. But it was far from a default decision. Before de Waart would commit to the MSO, he had to conduct them. “I rehearsed with the orchestra in December for two days. I had a ball. It was fantastic.”
de Waart is excited to begin work with the MSO in 2009, but for Milwaukee audiences salivating to see the man in action, he’ll conduct two upcoming concerts: October 31 – November 2 and November 7 and 8, 2008
Like de Waart, Daniel Keegan, recently installed CEO of the Milwaukee Art Museum, has ties to Wisconsin – he grewup in Green Bay. Prior to joining the Art Museum in February,Keegan served as Executive Director of the San Jose Museum of Art in California for seven years, and he was Executive Director of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City for three years before that.
Keegan already is impressed by the level of public involvement with the visual arts in Milwaukee, especially that of young people. “I think the Milwaukee arts scene has a critical mass and a lot of momentum,” he says. He’s hopeful that VITAL’s readers will check out the new late-night hours at the Art Museum – they’ll be open until midnight on the third Friday of every month, beginning October 17.
Eric Dillner, new Managing Director of the Skylight Opera Theatre, comes to the Milwaukee arts scene from the southern United States, where he served for seven years as General and Artistic Director of the Shreveport Opera in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Skylight is the latest benefactor of Dillner’s management skills in a career that has spanned 20 years.
Dillner was drawn to the Skylight for a number of reasons, but says the breadth and depth of the Skylight appealed to him. The Skylight owns the Broadway Theatre Center, which is a two-theater complex with four resident theater companies. Those companies, Dillner says, “are doing many different art forms – Shakespeare, straight plays, Renaissance, Broadway and opera.” The Skylight’s very full spectrum of the performing arts is “what really drew me here.”
According to Dillner, this season the Skylight stages the perfect opera for someone just discovering the arts in general or opera in particular – La Boheme, which runs from September 12 through October 5. “It’s the lush beautiful music of Puccini and a very romantic story, but also it’s been brought up to date and in English,” Dillner says.
The back office
Arts-supporting administrative leadership is just as important as artistic management in any vibrant arts community, which is why it’s good news that the United Performing Arts Fund welcomes Cristy Garcia-Thomas as their new President. Garcia-Thomas brings an extensive history in the business community, having served in a variety of roles at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, including her last position as Vice President of the Specialty Media Division.
The move to her current position at UPAF in the spring was appealing to Garcia-Thomas for two main reasons: the ability to run a large business at the age of 39 and to play a vital role in an organization with a strong and successful history. “The arts can engage the mind, lift the spirit and be a positive influence on the community,” Garcia-Thomas said.
Garcia-Thomas notes from September through June, on almost any night of the week, a young adult can find a theater, music or dance performance to experience. UPAF’s nationally-recognized members offer pre- and post- performance opportunities to learn more about the production, engage and even meet with the artists.
Meanwhile, outgoing UPAF President Christine Harris was named President and Executive Director of the Milwaukee Cultural Alliance in February of 2008. It was a natural move, given her previous work on the Alliance’s founding steering committee and Board of Directors.
Harris is no newcomer to the arts; she’s been in arts administration in Milwaukee since 1984, when she joined the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra as its Marketing Director. Other leadership opportunities followed, including a stint as Executive Director of the Milwaukee Ballet.
Harris talks of the prospects for arts and culture in Milwaukee: “I believe we have a distinctive and well-managed cultural sector that is in a fragile fiscal state.” To “fix” that problem, she describes a comprehensive community plan for arts and culture, including a private-public funding partnership, “so our cultural community continues
to be a strategic asset for our region.”
Other notable newcomers
Wade Hobgood was recently appointed dean of UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts. A former Professor of Mass Communications at the University of North Carolina – Asheville, he also previously served as Chancellor at North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem and as dean at the College of the Arts at California State University – Long Beach and College of Fine Arts at Stephen F. Austin University. According to Rita Hartung Cheng, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Hobgood “has extensive experience in fund raising and has developed many successful partnerships with donors, business sponsors and potential supporters. Wade has also served as a consultant with international, national and regional arts clients and several universities, helping them develop new curriculum, policies and/or procedures.”
“My heart has always been in Milwaukee,” he says. “This is an amazingly dynamic city full of culture and people who have a vested interest, like me, in seeing it become even better.”
In early July, Renaissance Theaterworks (RTW) welcomed Lisa Rasmussen as Development Director. Rasmussen holds a B.A. in both Theatre and Psychology from Cardinal Stritch University. While attending Cardinal Stritch, she worked her way around virtually every aspect of Stritch’s reputable theater department.
Prior to joining RTW, Rasmussen worked in marketing for a local commercial real estate group. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and the Young Nonprofit Professional Network (YNPN), and a newly coined Certified Tourism Ambassador.
The Milwaukee Art Museum is looking for a new Chief Curator following the resignation of Joe Ketner in August. And WUWM’s morning news show Lake Effect is still looking for a host to replace Jane Hampden, who left the show last month to return to academia. The new host might not be part of the performing arts community per se, but the position will certainly require a comfort and familiarity with Milwaukee’s art scene. Our tarot readers are predicting announcement in the fall.
In June, Elly Pick was named Executive Director of Charles Allis Art Museum & Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. By July she had resigned, leaving the position open. Laurel Turner, who is leaving to return to academia, will stay on in the interim until a new director is chosen. VS