The University of Maryland has chosen a career arts administrator to run its $114 million Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, which is expected to open next year months behind schedule and at least $7 million over budget.
Susan S. Farr, executive director of the Washington-based Association of Performing Arts Presenters, will assume the $140,000 post Nov. 1. She will be the second person to fill the position, following the October departure of Jeffrey Babcock to run the Boston Ballet.
Babcock described Farr as "very savvy, articulate, thoughtful, a very experienced arts administrator who knows the campus. She's first-rate. She's absolutely one of the top people in the country."
The 318,000-square-foot center, said to be the largest such university facility in the country, is being built on 17 acres on the west side of the College Park campus. It will serve more than 200 faculty members and 5,000 students from three academic departments. It also will contain six large venues for performances, including a 1,200-seat concert hall, space for community groups and a performing arts library.
"I'm really looking forward to returning to campus life," said Farr, who holds a master of fine arts from Stanford University, where she began her career as a stage technician. Before joining the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in 1986, she directed Cal Performance at the University of California at Berkeley.
The association she heads has more than 1,500 member associations, of which 1,200 are nonprofit and 350 are on university campuses.
Looking ahead to her new post, she said, "The opportunity to bring together the campus priorities, professional artists and service to the community is what interests me about the job."
Farr, 52, said she is undaunted by the cost and scheduling problems as work proceeds on the center. "I think any time there is a new building project of this magnitude," she said, "there are bound to be conflicting priorities and multiple expectations."
The state is contributing $97 million to the project, the county $10 million and the university the rest. The amount over budget, $7 million, comes from cost overruns and "enhancements" or features that were cut and then restored, according to Charles Sturtz, university vice president for administrative affairs.
Aside from construction, operating costs will be funded in part by a $20 million endowment. Washington artist Clarice Smith, for whom the center is named, donated $15 million to that fund this year.
Construction on the arts center began in September 1996. It was designed by the architectural firm of Moore Ruble Yudell of Santa Monica, Calif., which was chosen in 1994 after an international competition and later was replaced as the lead architect by Ayers Saint Gross of Washington after a 1997 dispute over alleged design defects.
As a result of postponements and speedup orders, the general contractor, Turner Construction Co., has filed claims against the university for $17 million. Should the state contract board of appeals agree, the project's cost could total $131 million, according to Sturtz.
Contractually, Sturtz said, Turner was supposed to complete construction in April 2000, but the date now has been pushed back to August. A university news release last week said the center "is slated to open" for public performances in 2001.
The center will be home to the departments of theater and dance and the school of music. In addition to the concert hall, it will contain a 650-seat theater, three smaller theaters, a Prince George's County Community Room, 30 classrooms, 50 practice and rehearsal rooms and a 100-seat restaurant.
"The first thing I'm going do," Farr said, "is talk to all the people in community and on campus who have expectations of this building so I can get a clear view of the needs and expectations and start to begin to weave them together."
Farr said it's "not clear" how large a staff she will have to operate the facility, which will provide support services to the various departments. Nor does she yet know what her operating budget will be, she said.
Timothy F. Maloney, a member of the College Park board of visitors who lobbied for the state funding, said, "Now the big challenge is to give her the autonomy to do her job on campus. . . . One of the first things is to organize it in a way that she'll have tools to do the job independent of the bureaucracy."
At College Park, Farr will be reporting to Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Gregory L. Geoffrey, but she will be working day to day with the dean of the college of arts and humanities.
Farr, a native of the Pittsburgh area, lives in Silver Spring. In her spare time, she said, she attends performances and scrambles 45 dozen eggs one morning each week at a downtown soup kitchen for the homeless. "Then I serve and clean up," she said.
Babcock said he was assured that university officials would move swiftly to fill the post, but Farr said she was recruited for the job by a search firm just this July. Nonetheless, Babcock said, "It's a great project, and they made a really good choice."
Said Farr, "Every job brings its own challenges. This one will, too."