The AT&T Performing Arts Center named Mark Weinstein its new President and CEO on Tuesday. The former head of Washington National Opera says his grand vision of the center is one that is accessible to everyone.
“I think that the arts are for everybody, and I want all of Dallas to feel that the AT&T Performing Arts Center is for them,” he says. “And that means it’s for a lot of different types of people – all walks – but affordability of tickets, diversity of audience and presentation – things that unite Dallas but talk to every person in Dallas. That’s the kind of thing I’m interested in.”
Raising the last $40 million to complete the center’s $354 million capital campaign will be a top priority. And Weinstein says more money is needed for programming. Weinstein must also stabilize an organization that has had inconsistent leadership since it opened. The center’s founding CEO, Bill Lively, left to head up the North Texas Super Bowl host committee. His replacement, Mark Nerenhausen, resigned abruptly in July after just a year and a half on the job.
In an interview Tuesday afternoon, Weinstein discussed his vision of the performing arts center as well as the Arts District as a whole:
Art&Seek: What attracted you to this job?
Mark Weinstein: I think this is the most exciting job in America right now for the performing arts. Since Lincoln Center has been built, nothing of this scale, I believe, has been built. And certainly not in such innovative and beautiful and gorgeous state-of-the-art facilities. So when you combine those facilities which have been built with an arts district that is gelling combined with really excellent resident companies, it’s very, very exciting.
A&S: What’s your first order of business?
M.W.: Find out what the heck I’m doing. [laughs] My first order of business is to learn about the center and learn about Dallas. I want to talk to all the board members, I want to talk to the staff, I want to meet the community leaders in town, and then I just want to meet people in Dallas. My wife and I intend to immerse ourselves in the culture of Dallas and understand what the Dallas way of doing things is. I’ve been other places, but I haven’t been in Dallas and I want to be part of the community.
A&S: You’ve lived most of your life in the northeast. What are your feelings about moving here?
M.W.: What I’ve found, which I’m not sure I really expected, but I have found people to be incredibly welcoming. I’ve never been treated so well just coming in for interviews and talking with people and doing my due diligence. People are warm and friendly and concerned about community and civics. That’s what I think that the arts should be. I want the arts center to be a gathering place – a place where people can come and be stimulated and creative and discuss things in a way that they can’t necessarily discuss through other venues. That’s what art does. I think Dallas is ripe for that, and if it can’t be done in Dallas, I don’t think it can be done anywhere.
A&S: Do you have an update on where fundraising for the center stands?
M.W.: What I’ve been told is that we still have to finish off the capital campaign, but that almost all the money has been raised. But there’s another $40 million bucks or so that needs to be raised. We also need an annual fund in order to bring in the world’s greatest acts. Art can’t sustain itself alone, just on ticket sales. Ticket sales are important and people vote with their feet and ticket dollars. But people also vote with their donor dollars in terms of what’s important to them and their families and to the future of Dallas.
A&S: So much of arts management is about fundraising. Is that an element of the job that you like?
M.W.: I love it. I embrace it. And the reason is that it’s not asking for something for myself. I’m not good at that. Fundraising really is a way of sharing important values and important things that have to happen in the future to people who have a common interest. And so I think that through giving – whether it’s to your church or to your university or to a charity that you really care about what they’re accomplishing – it’s the same thing for the arts as well. I don’t view that the arts should be the No. 1 priority of everybody who’s giving money. But it should be somewhere in there, and the only question is: How much of your philanthropic dollars should go to the arts. Starving children come first. At some point, the arts enter into the equation. We can argue whether it’s one percent or 35 percent.
A&S: Have you thought about how you might like to work with the other institutions that make up the arts district?
M.W.: Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. First of all, you don’t have anti-trust laws in the arts. We’re allowed to cooperate with each other – we’re encouraged to do so. Coming here, I’m part of a team with the opera with the ballet, with the symphony – even though the symphony is not necessarily in a AT&T Performing Arts Center – with the Dallas Theater [Center]. We’re all in this together and we have to work together, and I’ve spent my entire career working with other arts groups to achieve a common goal of raising the arts within a community.
A&S: What was it about the combination of the arts and management that made you decide you wanted to make this a career?
M.W.: In 3rd grade, I sang the Statue of Liberty torch song as a solo. I had a one-line solo, and I was hooked on music for life. From there, it was Handel’s Messiah, from there it was just going on and on in life, but it was always on the side. I ended up getting an MBA, and one day, it struck me that I could actually do what I wanted to do in life – I didn’t have to be a slave to a résumé. And so I sat down and came up with a pyramid. On one side of the pyramid was that my skill set was really business. And the other side of the pyramid was that my love was the arts. And if I could end up applying what I do best to what I love most, then I could be happy. Thirty years ago, I took a 78 percent pay cut and went to work for Beverly Sills at New York City Opera. I met my wife there, we had our kid there. My life has been great ever since by combining those two things.