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First-of-the-New-Year Monday Morning Roundup


by Stephen Becker 5 Jan 2009

HE’S REALLY NOT GOING: Need further proof that Dallas Opera General Director George Steel is staying put? On Sunday, The New York Times wrote about the woes of his recent suitor, New York City Ballet. It took a while for Steel’s name to pop up, but about 20 inches in, this paragraph emerged: Whoever agrees […]

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HE’S REALLY NOT GOING: Need further proof that Dallas Opera General Director George Steel is staying put? On Sunday, The New York Times wrote about the woes of his recent suitor, New York City Ballet. It took a while for Steel’s name to pop up, but about 20 inches in, this paragraph emerged:

Whoever agrees to take on the general director’s job will be thrust into immediate crisis management. That person will surely have to be available immediately. Experienced managers currently working elsewhere may find it impractical, not to mention unprofessional, to abandon contractual commitments to their institutions. Many names have been bandied about, including that of George Steel, the former director of the Miller Theater, who this season took charge of the Dallas Opera. Mr. Steel, who had been sounded out about his possible interest by a City Opera board member, reiterated in an interview that he was excited by the possibilities in Dallas and intended to honor his commitment.

Every step along the way, Steel has denied any interest in leaving, and it sounds like that hasn’t changed.

WHO SAYS THE ARTS DON’T PAY? No doubt some arts administrators’ ears perked up at the news of one of their own’s whopping salary. It came out recently that Joe Dowling, director of Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theatre, brought home a tidy $682,229 in 2007. Not including a one-time $100K bonus he was paid that year, that hefty sum ranks him above just about anyone in his position nationally.

While it may seem curious that he makes more than directors of theaters in larger cities, what’s disheartening is the idea that his salary should be reduced because of the current economic situation. The Star Tribune story notes that the theater has finished in the black in each of the last 12 years. Yet the paper quotes an unnamed board member of the theater as saying, “Joe has done outstanding things — he’s been great for the Guthrie — but I question if that is appropriate at this time.”

Interesting that a board member, who is charged with setting such salaries, would question the logic. But the point is: Dowling sounds like he’s doing a good job, and the theater is doing well under him. Why not reward him? My guess is that during better economic times that was the thinking, and he may have been given such a grand salary to ward off poachers from the East. That says to me that the board takes its theater seriously and is willing to pay for it. And as long as the theater is paying for itself, then I don’t see what the problem is.

CALLING ALL LEFTIES: Lefthanders make up only about 10 percent of the population, but a disproportionate number of world-class piano players are south paws. That’s hard to believe, considering the piano is basically designed for right-handers. But there are theories as to why lefties dominate the profession. I suppose the real takeaway here is: if you’ve got a youngster in the house who favors his left hand, get him in front of a piano soon (that is, when he’s not practicing his pitching).

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