Lincoln Center can’t seem to catch a break.
First Jed Bernstein, its president, was forced to step down 27 months into the job, after the discovery that he had been in a relationship with a staff member.
Now Mr. Bernstein’s successor, Debora L. Spar, the former president of Barnard College, has announced her resignation, just one year after starting in the position.
“Moving from academia to the performing arts world pushed me to think, learn and lead in new ways,” Ms. Spar said on Friday afternoon in a letter sent to colleagues. “While we have achieved a lot together over the past year, I have also questioned whether the role is right for me.”
“As I looked back on the last 12 months, I ultimately determined that the fit I’d hoped for has not materialized,” she continued. “It is for this reason that I have decided it is best for the organization for me to step aside.”
Brought in from outside the arts, Ms. Spar is leaving after a rocky year. Lincoln Center dramatically scaled back plans to rebuild David Geffen Hall; ended one of its summer mainstays, the Lincoln Center Festival; endured tensions between longtime senior staff and members of Ms. Spar’s new team; and grappled with financial challenges, projecting a deficit this year.
Her departure comes only six months after the decision to scuttle the expensive gut renovation of Geffen Hall, the New York Philharmonic’s home at the center, and seek simpler ways to improve it. When Ms. Spar, who started a $400 million capital campaign at Barnard, took over, the plans for the hall were considerably more ambitious, with most of the money needed for the project — estimated at more than $500 million — still to be raised.
But in October, Lincoln Center and the Philharmonic, spooked by the rising price tag and projections that the orchestra would need to leave the hall for several years during construction, announced they were drastically scaling back. It was a major setback for a project that has been mulled for nearly 20 years, and threw cold water on the fire finally ignited by a $100 million gift from the entertainment mogul David Geffen in 2015. After the decision to abandon the gut renovation, Mr. Geffen expressed frustration at the lack of additional support for the project from other wealthy donors.
Lincoln Center has insisted the more minimal plan is not an admission of failure. “We’ve got some great plans that everyone is very excited about,” Katherine Farley, Lincoln Center’s chairwoman, who led the center and oversaw the Geffen Hall rebuilding plans for almost a year between Mr. Bernstein’s departure and Ms. Spar’s arrival, said in an interview.
The revision of the hall’s plans was driven by Deborah Borda, the powerful arts leader who was named president and chief executive of the Philharmonic last year. In an interview, Ms. Borda disputed the idea that there was a clash between her and Ms. Spar.
“She was a great partner to work with on the hall,” Ms. Borda said. “I think she just felt this wasn’t a good fit.”
The Geffen Hall project was not the only retrenchment under Ms. Spar’s watch. In November, the center announced it was pulling the plug on its namesake summer festival in an effort to save money and focus its offerings. But such cuts have not erased the financial struggles facing the center, which said that it is projecting a deficit for the fiscal year that ends in a few months, its first in years.
There has also been turnover among the center’s senior staff. Lesley Rosenthal, the center’s general counsel for 13 years, will leave to become chief operating officer at the Juilliard School this summer.
Soon after she arrived, Ms. Spar hired Bret Silver, who worked with her at Barnard, to be chief strategy and external relations officer. Tamar Podell, the center’s longtime development chief, now reported to Mr. Silver, and chafed at the arrangement, according to two people familiar with recent personnel discussions.
At one point, those people said, Ms. Podell signaled she intended to leave Lincoln Center, but is now staying, according to the center, which declined to comment further on personnel matters. Ms. Podell did not return a call seeking comment. Reached by telephone, Ms. Spar declined to elaborate on her statement.
Given Lincoln Center’s recent history, the 11-year tenure of Reynold Levy, who stepped down in 2013 after overseeing a $1.2 billion overhaul of the center’s campus, looks like the exception. His predecessor, Gordon J. Davis, resigned abruptly in 2001 after a stormy tenure that lasted just nine months.
Ms. Farley said that Lincoln Center’s board would initiate a formal search for her successor in the coming weeks. Russell Granet, the center’s executive vice president of education and community engagement since 2012, has been named acting president.
In a letter to the center’s staff, Ms. Farley wrote, “We understand you may have questions about this change.” She added that there would be a staff meeting on Monday at noon, when “we will have the opportunity to discuss the transition and answer your questions in person.”
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