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Leaders must know arts, bucks

| Sunday, May 30, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

As it considers the skills its next president needs, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh may turn to the business world rather than the arts -- an idea that would have been heresy a decade ago.

Museums trustee Lee Foster said the board realizes the addition of the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Science Center makes the president's job so complex that the next leader may not necessarily need a museum background.

"It opens up the concept that the individual could come from business or academia or any endeavor where strong business and marketing skills are present," said Foster, chairman of The L.B. Foster Co. in Greentree.

Increasing financial pressures on arts groups such as the Carnegie are causing more organizations to turn to leaders whose business skills surpass their knowledge of the arts.

"In the past several decades, more often than not, the people who moved into positions of leadership were in most cases directly related to the arts form in some ways -- either performers or strong ties to arts making," said Adrian Snyder, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Dance USA.

"More and more in the last decade or decade plus, we're seeing leaders who haven't necessarily come with an intimate knowledge or experience in the arts," she said.

"It's not good or bad. It's different."

Ellsworth Brown, former president of the Carnegie, had worked as president and director of the Chicago Historical Society before he came here. Suzy Broadhurst, chairwoman of the Carnegie's board, will serve as acting president until a new boss is chosen. Foster expects the search to take eight or nine months.

The Carnegie is not the only local arts group considering a business executive as its next leader.

The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra gave some thought to hiring a business executive to replace Gideon Toeplitz but decided against it, said Richard Simmons, chairman of the symphony's board. Toeplitz was executive vice president and managing director here and had held a similar position with the Houston Symphony.

"When you're arguably in the top five, six or seven (in the country), we decided we were first going to look for somebody with an outstanding music background and who had a track record in all of these other areas -- audience development and business skills," said Simmons, former chairman of Allegheny Technologies and Allegheny Ludlum Corp.

The symphony's new president, Lawrence Tamburri, is a musician with a master's degree in business administration. He previously headed the New Jersey Symphony in Newark.

The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre expects to hire a new director at the beginning of next year.

Demonstrated fund-raising capacity and an eye for the financial side are critical, said Hal K. Waldman, chairman of the ballet board and president of Senior Living Centers, Inc., Downtown.

"It'll have to be a background in the nonprofit arts and, if I were a betting man, I'd say a background in dance," he added.

The city's new arts leaders will face issues that trouble the arts across the nation.

Although the stock market has rebounded, several years of a sputtering economy have cut endowments.

The Pittsburgh Symphony used to draw 14 percent of the principal of its endowment to support operations in the mid-1990s. That figure has dropped to 6.5 percent, an amount that Simmons said is still too high.

"We're all learning too late that we were living in a fool's paradise," he said.

Another challenge for the new leaders will be attracting patrons, especially subscribers.

Subscribers accounted for 80 percent of the tickets sold by the Pittsburgh Symphony in the 1970s, Simmons said. That figure has plunged to about 35 percent now.

The number of entertainment options has grown, forcing arts groups to compete with each other, sports and other activities for patrons.

"Audiences today are less loyal to an institution, and they have to be convinced to renew their subscription every year, and they have to be convinced to buy tickets to every production," said Marc Scorca, president and CEO of Opera America in Washington, D.C.

As Pittsburgh's population declined, so too did the audience base for the arts. And the growing array of children's activities meant some parents were chauffeuring their sons and daughters rather than going to museums or operas.

Federal support of the arts also has declined. The budget of the National Endowment for the Arts was slashed from $176 million in 1992 to $115.2 million 10 years later.

Pittsburgh historically leaned too heavily on foundations for support, said Kevin McMahon, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. When some foundations left town or gave less money because of declining portfolios or new priorities, arts groups had to play catch-up with individual patrons.

"We haven't done a good job because we relied on foundations," Simmons admitted. "It's easier to go to one place and get $100,000 than 100 places to get $1,000 from each."

Cutbacks in arts education also affected arts groups. "In addition to being a loss for the community in general, it also makes it a greater challenge for orchestras to develop audiences because you start with a community with less familiarity," said Jack McAuliffe, vice president and chief operating officer of the American Symphony Orchestra League in New York City.

Additional Information:

Barriers to arts attendance

The Performing Arts Research Coalition conducted telephone surveys of residents in 10 cities. Respondents said they strongly agree that the following pose barriers to attending the arts:
  • Hard to make time to go out: 42%

  • Prefer to spend leisure time in other ways: 35%

  • Cost of tickets: 27%

  • Difficulty or cost of getting to or parking at events: 23%

    Source: Performing Arts Resource Coalition

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