It’s a time of changing guards in the DC arts world. This week, the Clarice Smith Center, the presenting organization based at the University of Maryland, announced its new executive director: it’s Martin Wollesen, who has been running the ArtPower! presenting program and at the University of California, San Diego.
Wollesen replaces Susie Farr, the center’s inaugural executive director, who after a 14-year-tenure is retiring this fall. Wollesen will take over on September 2.
Wollesen’s programming at ArtPower! has certain points of overlap with the Clarice Smith Center: points like Laurie Anderson, or the Kronos Quartet. Like the Clarice Smith Center, ArtPower! is a university-based presenter of professional artists, sometimes in conjunction with the educational facilities. Under Farr, the Clarice Smith Center has developed into one of the best venues for contemporary performance work in the DC area. This does not seem likely to change under Wollesen, whose innovations at UCSD included a performance space that incorporated a wine bar.
"I am thrilled to be joining not only one of the best campus-based performing arts centers in the country, but a world-class university as well," Wollesen said in a press release. "While honoring the achievements of the university by strengthening current programs and partnerships, we will build a new future by working collaboratively, strategically and globally to create greater depth and breadth of dialogue in the arts through the Clarice Smith Center."
Above: in 2012, Martin Wollesen gave a TEDx talk on “The New Audiences of Performing Arts.” Wollesen was just announced as the incoming head of the Clarice Smith Center at the University of Maryland.
At a time of increased financial challenges in the arts world, universities remain a haven for new work. University-based presenting organizations maintain a foot in each of two worlds. On the one hand, they are an outlet for the work being done by campus organizations (like UMD’s vaunted orchestra or the Maryland Opera Studio); but they are also commercial presenters of professional artists, some but not all of whom are working with the students as well. (The Kronos Quartet, for example, has had a residency at UMD, the fruits of which have been seen on the Clarice Smith Center stages.) Part of Wollesen’s mandate at the Clarice Smith Center will be to develop new programs in collaboration with UMD’s schools of music and theater, dance and performance studies: ways to bring artists and students together, and on stage.
But presenting organizations are also themselves a fine laboratory for exploring ways to interact with the much-coveted younger audience, amply represented by a student body that is sometimes, but not always, interested in buying tickets. In San Diego, Wollesen tried a range of different ways to reach out to students – by having chamber ensembles, for instance, play in their dorms. Given the spirit of experimentation of the UMD orchestra program, in particular – known for doing things like having the whole orchestra dance around the stage while playing Debussy -- Wollesen may prove to be a terrific fit.