Oregon Ballet Theatre announced this morning that Artistic Director Christopher Stowell submitted his resignation to the OBT board and will leave the company at the end of the year. Stowell has drastically expanded OBT’s size and ambitions since arriving in 2003, including adding 50 ballets to its repertoire, nearly two dozen of which were world premieres. In the process, he’s built it into a nationally respected company, including being one of three western states companies to be invited to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 2008 as part of Ballet Across America. They’re set to return next year.
“OBT’s Board of Trustees has determined that the organization must adopt a new business model and, after much thought, I have come to the conclusion that I am not the best candidate to lead OBT into that future,” Stowell writes in an extended personal statement (see below). “I was hired by OBT’s Board in 2003 to implement and lead a specific vision for the organization. I am very proud of the work we have accomplished to that end. Now that OBT is entering a new chapter in its history, it is imperative to find the right leader.”
“A new business model” no doubt means one that’s more financial viable, or at least lean. The ambitious places Stowell’s leadership has taken the company don’t come cheap, and it’s no secret that OBT, like most arts organizations these days, has had financial troubles. It almost folded in 2009, only to be saved in part by a glorious one night benefit concert called Dance United. A 2011 audit, however, found that it was operating with a $134,000 surplus against a budget of $5.48 million, according to the Oregonian, which seems a good thing, although we don’t know how that’s changed.
The odd thing is how swiftly Stowell’s resignation comes after a restructuring at the ballet in September made him a de facto executive director, putting him at the head of the organization and directly reporting to the board. The restructuring also created two new positions, vice president of marketing and development and vice president of finance and administration, that were to report to Stowell. Former board member Joanne Van Ness Menashe was hired to the marketing and development position in September, while the other position remains unfilled.
Just this Monday, Trisha Mead, the ballet’s director of marketing and communications, announced that she was leaving the company to work for Arciform, and of course, executive director Diane Syrcle left in June to become the vice president of development for the Oregon Symphony. Seems the ballet is now mid leap, with no one sure where it will land.
Stay tuned for more.
From OBT, Christopher Stowell's Personal Statement:
After careful consideration and thoughtful reflection, I have submitted my resignation as Artistic Director of Oregon Ballet Theatre effective at the end of December. OBT’s Board of Trustees has determined that the organization must adopt a new business model and, after much thought, I have come to the conclusion that I am not the best candidate to lead OBT into that future.
I was hired by OBT’s Board in 2003 to implement and lead a specific vision for the organization. I am very proud of the work we have accomplished to that end. Now that OBT is entering a new chapter in its history, it is imperative to find the right leader.
To our dedicated audiences, I want to say thank you for your support of my work during my time at OBT. I believe that classical ballet, as an art form, has a great deal to offer this community and hope that you will continue to support OBT as an audience member and donor for many years to come.
To our funders and donors, I also extend my thanks for your many years of support. Your generosity has enabled OBT to create beauty for our audiences, given access to ballet to thousands of people and helped bring the joy of dance to thousands of children. For that, you have my deep gratitude.
I am very grateful to all the staff members who have dedicated so much of themselves to OBT over the last decade. It has been a great honor to work with everyone. I hope that what we have accomplished will contribute to the future success of the organization.
To OBT’s dancers I can only say thank you for everything you have done for OBT, for your colleagues, for your fans and for the art form. This organization, this community, this state and the whole of the ballet world owe you a debt of gratitude.
It has been the greatest honor of my life to work with everyone at Oregon Ballet Theatre. This is the most talented, dedicated and passionate group of artists I have ever known. As I move on to new challenges and new frontiers, my experiences at OBT will go with me and for that you have my thanks.