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Music Center's next boss, Rachel Moore, gets bravos from L.A. arts leaders

LA arts leaders praise #MusicCenter's hiring of Rachel Moore, top executive of ballet's ABT, as its next boss

Rachel Moore is drawing bravos in Los Angeles, where she's headed to lead its downtown Music Center after 11 years as executive director of New York City-based American Ballet Theatre.

Deborah Borda, president of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said she has gotten to know Moore through ABT's appearances at the Phil-run Hollywood Bowl -- one in 2012 and another booked for September.

"She's a very intelligent woman with a lot of energy," Borda said. "I think she will be very skilled in helping the board of the Music Center develop a vision of where they're going and what they want to be.

For us it's critical that the Music center operate as a very skilled and supportive landlord, but I hope the Music Center also can create a vibrant destination that people want to come to, to hang out and experience all forms of the arts," Borda said.

How to accomplish that, she continued, "is one of the key challenges that the new CEO is going to take on."

Christopher Koelsch, president of Los Angeles Opera, said he expects to talk to Moore about cooperative efforts between the Music Center and the resident companies.

"I think we are all pivoting toward a different relationship with each other and with the community," he said. "I look forward to having that conversation with her. There's something to be said for cross-campus cooperation where it's possible."

"The most crucial relationship the Music Center has is with the county," Koelsch added -- alluding to the fact that it's the organization that receives $30 million a year to operate the venues and nearby Grand Park. 

One of Moore's big challenges will be helping to persuade the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to provide a large chunk of the money needed to upgrade the 51-year-old Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, where the opera performs, and the Music Center's outdoor plaza -- projects estimated at a combined $380 million.

"Basically, this is truly wonderful news," Stephan Koplowitz, dean of the school of dance at California Institute for the ARts, wrote in an email from Spoleto, Italy, where's he's working on a choreographic project.

"I think she's going to be perfect," said Robert Cutietta, dean of USC's schools of music and dance. "There are certain people who just have a talent for arts administration, which is often an underappreciated thing."

"She will take the entire Music Center to new heights," Benjamin Millepied, founder and artistic overseer of Los Angeles Dance Project, predicted in a written statement. "ABT's loss is L.A.'s gain."

Nicholas Goldsborough, who held high management posts at the Music Center in the late 1990s and early 2000s, including a term as interim president, said he's followed Moore's work closely because he's been a big fan of ABT for decades.

"Rachel has helped to professionalize the whole business part of the company, and she also has real artistic sensibility," said Goldsborough, now associate vice chancellor for fundraising at UCLA. "I'm very enthusiastic about her appointment. We need a person with real vision and artistic chops to work with the resident companies to take on new projects that will add luster to the Music Center. They could work jointly on festivals and all kinds of projects."

When USC announced in 2012 that it was launching a new school of dance, Moore made an unsolicited call to Cutietta to offer her and ABT's help. That began an ongoing working relationship that has left the arts dean impressed.

"Words like 'delightful' come into play," Cutietta said. "You know she's the person in charge, she carries a bit of gravitas with her, but there's no arrogance. I think she'll be a great collaborator. As an umbrella organization, [the Music Center] needs to be inclusive. It's never 'my way or the highway' with her. It's always inclusive."

Organizationally, the Music Center has branding issues. It's the entity responsible for a landlord function, ensuring the venues are well-kept and operate smoothly. But it also aspires to add more to the overall programming mix.

Except for presenting a high-profile series of major touring dance companies, the Music Center has taken a backseat as an impresario to the resident companies that put on the vast majority of performances, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera and Center Theatre Group.

After 13 years in L.A., Cutietta said, he's still not clear about how the Music Center organization interacts with the big resident companies that dominate its four venues.

"She'll have to have a great relationship" with the resident companies' top executives, Cutietta said. "Is her role as a traffic cop, the person who has to encourage them to work together? I don't understand. What she has to do is articulate what the Music Center is. She can [design] some great programs, but it has to start with 'What's the identity?'"

Cutietta said that Moore's arrival could mark a fresh start for an organization that stumbled badly in its recent 50th anniversary celebration, when it failed to exploit the fundraising opportunity such milestones typically bring.

Funding shortfalls recently prompted the Music Center to lay off half of its 10-member programming staff, and almost a third of its 16-member arts education staff. Long seen as a leader in arts education, the Music Center has cut its education spending in half over the past several years.

Most damning for Cutietta, was the Dec. 6 gala performance that the Music Center contracted out to a Texas-based events producer. The resulting show aimed to represent highlights of the past 50 years, but was widely panned as too glitzy, too superficial and too long. Cutietta thinks it may have alienated some potential donors.

"[Moore] has to overcome the disaster of the 50th," he said. "People in the arts community are still shaking their heads and wondering what that was about. The performance was one of the most embarrassing I've ever seen."

Moore's hiring in L.A. may bring benefits to the Music Center's Orange County peer, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. Segerstrom President Terrence Dwyer said he's been a good friend of Moore since they met at a training program for arts executives at Stanford University more than 15 years ago.

Earlier this year, the Segerstrom Center opened a new dance school for children in collaboration with ABT, modeling the program on ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in New York.

"She has to decide what is interesting and important to the Music Center, and she'll be a visionary leader in that regard," Dwyer said. "She's such a great collaborator that I'm very confident we can develop projects we can work on together. At some point perhaps we could co-produce something" spanning the two arts centers.

"You hear a lot of people talking about Rachel's artistic knowledge and background," Dwyer added. "She's done it with a great sense of class, enormously positive people skills and a real sense of humor. She's not just a leader, but likes having fun along the way. I think she'll make a real difference to the cultural life of Los Angeles. I can't wait to see what happens in the next few seasons."

4:40: This story was updated with comments by Nicholas Goldsborough, associate vice chancellor for fundraising at UCLA.

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