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In the arts world, a year of new faces

Around Oregon, a fresh crop of arts leaders move into top spots. In part, it's a generational shift.


If life is change, a lot of life was being led in Oregon arts and cultural circles in 2022. People retired or left leadership positions; new people arrived to take their places, bringing their own ideas.


The reshuffling of arts leadership in Portland and around Oregon was at least partly a continuing generational shift that in 2021 also brought David Danzmayr to the podium of the Oregon Symphony, replacing Carlos Kalmar as music director; Priti Gandhi as artistic director of Portland Opera; and Graham Cole to the executive director slot at White Bird dance, carrying forward from founders Walter Jaffe and Paul King: Read The Bird Boys’ Swan Song, Marty Hughley’s August 2022 report on Jaffe and King’s quarter-century of presenting dance, and the passing of the torch.


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A few of the year’s notable changings of the guard:


In the theater world, Jeanette Harrison took over as artistic director of Artists Repertory Theatre, arriving from AlterTheater in San Rafael, Calif., a company she co-founded in 2004, to replace Dámaso Rodriguez, and bringing a background in new-play development and contemporary Indigenous theater. Marty Hughley profiles her here.

Late in the year, Hillsboro’s Bag&Baggage Theatre named Nik Whitcomb, program director of the Black Theatre Coalition who’s also worked with such companies as Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, and Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, as its new artistic director, succeeding Cassie Greer.

Holly Griffith became artistic director of Corrib Theatre, succeeding founding artistic director Gemma Whelan. Read Marty Hughley and Bobby Bermea on the transition and Griffith’s opening show for Portland’s Irish theater company.

Cynthia Fuhrman, managing director since 2017 at Portland Center Stage, the city’s biggest theater company, left the company in the spring to become a vice president for the national arts consulting firm Tom O’Connor Consulting Group, as Marty Hughley reported. Fuhrman, recognized far and wide as a managerial star, had been part of the company’s original team in 1988, and also had worked for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, StageWest in Massachusetts, and Seattle Repertory Theatre. Liam Kaas-Lentz is now PCS’s interim managing director.

As Hughley also reported, leading Portland actor and director Michael Mendelson took over as managing artistic director of the professional acting school The Actors Conservatory, succeeding founder Beth Harper, who ran the school for 37 years. Mendelson retained his position as founding artistic director of Portland Shakespeare Project.


The music scene saw several shifts, too. Late in the year, following a series of concerts led by three finalists, the British harpsichordist and early-music champion Julian Perkins was hired to succeed violinist Monica Huggett as artistic director of Portland Baroque Orchestra.


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Christopher Mattaliano, former longtime general director of Portland Opera, returned to town as founder and general/artistic director of Orpheus PDX, a new, intimately scaled opera company that produced its first season during the summer: Read James Bash’s interview with Mattaliano, Don’t look back.

The operatic and classical singer Kelly Nassief, an illustrious graduate of Portland State University, returned to her alma mater to take over PSU’s excellent opera program following the retirement of former New York City Opera star Christine Meadows: Read We will not just make singers, we will make artists, Bash’s interview with Nassief.

The ensemble Third Angle New Music hired Carissa Burkett as its executive director. Burkett had been the well-regarded director of art programs at Chehalem Cultural Center in Newberg, where Katie Spain is now exhibitions coordinator.

BRAVO Youth Orchestras — Oregon’s first El Sistema-inspired program, which serves hundreds of students in six high-poverty schools in North Portland with intensive music programs — named Portland native Cinda Jackson as director of After School Programs for the organization.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble chose Portland percussionist, DJ, teacher, and administrator Meg Morrow as its new Executive Director, succeeding Douglas Detrick. She has served as Assistant Director with the Louisville Leopard Percussionists, and in several other musical roles in Kentucky. Morrow will continue to host the A.M. Bridge jazz program on Portland public radio station KMHD.


Dance also saw some shuffles. In November, Shane Jewell, general manager of the contemporary dance troupe Gibney Company in New York City, was hired as executive director of Oregon Ballet Theatre, which has not yet named a permanent new artistic director. And, as Martha Ullman West wrote, former OBT dancer Katarina Svetlova, who had held the position on an interim basis, was named director of the OBT School. Former OBT dancer Peter Franc has been interim artistic director since the company parted ways with former artistic director Kevin Irving in June 2021. Irving, meanwhile, was named executive director of Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra in May of this year, as Brett Campbell reports in Kevin Irving dances into the music.


From the Oregon Coast, Lori Tobias profiled Chasse Davidson, new director of the Newport Visual Arts Center, and India Downes-Le Guin, new executive director of the Hoffman Center for the Arts, in Manzanita.


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The Siletz Bay Music Festival, led artistically by Yaacov Bergman, who is also artistic leader of Portland Chamber Orchestra and other ensembles across the nation, hired Shellie Stuart as its new executive director.

In Central Oregon, the Sunriver Music Festival chose Seattle native Brett Mitchell as its new artistic director. 

Portland Baroque Orchestra Executive Director Abigail McKee is leaving that position to become president and CEO of Southern Oregon’s Britt Music and Arts Festival in Jacksonville, succeeding retiring predecessor Donna Briggs. The Britt Festival Orchestra, meanwhile, named Renia Shterenberg its new general manager.

And in Willamette Valley wine country, Dan and Nancy Morrow stepped down as leaders of the McMinnville Short Film Festival and passed the torch to a new executive director, filmmaker Heather Older. At the southern end of the state, meanwhile, the Ashland Independent Film Festival added a new artistic director, Roberta Munroe, and a new director of programming, Joe Bilancio.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."


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