When David T. Little plays in Washington, it’s usually at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. For the last couple of seasons, Atlas’s new-music series has brought cutting-edge contemporary ensembles from around the country to DC: Newspeak, So Percussion (which returns next month), and several of the groups performing in the Andriessen 75 festival, of which the Atlas is one of several presenting organizations.
Sadly, this may change in the near future. Last week, the Atlas’s executive director, Sam Sweet, announced that he is leaving his post at the end of the season. The center’s programming future remains open.
When he took the executive director job three years ago, Street said he came to realize that “H street is a changing community. . .There was a sense of revival, of renewal, of youthful energy, and it made me think of contemporary performing arts.” He added, “DC had places committed to one particular contemporary art form — theater, dance — but there really wasn’t a performing arts center dedicated to contemporary performing arts in all disciplines. That was a way for Atlas to connect to a wide range of people within the local community and beyond.” By bringing in significant contemporary artists and connecting them with the local art scene, Sweet thought the Atlas could forge a new identity.
Building audiences takes time, however, and the board may have been nervous about the empty seats at a few of the new-music concerts. The Atlas, Sweet said, is “still growing, changing, defining what it wants to be. The board is having that discussion, and [it is] best served by me stepping aside and letting someone else take over.” One of the last new-music productions of the season: David T. Little’s “Soldier Songs,” a performance that was almost scuttled due to lack of funds.
Sweet can’t predict the future of the new-music program, but Armando Bayolo, who has acted as new-music curator and whose own Great Noise Ensemble has been among the Atlas’s key local artists, is sanguine. “I expect that relationship to continue,” he says. “And I expect that, after a short period of restructuring and righting the financial ship, we will return to the strong quality of innovative programming that has been central to the Atlas’s mission.”