Rachel Moore of ABT named L.A. Music Center’s next president and CEO

Rachel Moore, a former dancer and the longtime top business executive of New York’s American Ballet Theatre, will be the next president and CEO of the Music Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Meeting Wednesday, the Music Center’s board confirmed Moore as its next president. She replaces Stephen Rountree, who resigned in December after 13 years.

Moore, who’ll start the job Oct. 5, is the first Music Center president who has run a major performance company, as opposed to having managed arts venues. She’s also the first who has been a professional performing artist, having spent four years during her early 20s as a member of ABT’s corps de ballet.


After an ankle injury at 24 ended her dream of rising from the ballet corps to soloist, she rebounded by studying arts management.

She takes over a performing arts hub that’s in need of a rebound itself.

“A fully articulated vision is not something I can put forward right now, but my big-picture idea is that the Music Center serve as the heart of downtown, the heart of Los Angeles,” Moore said in an interview from the Metropolitan Opera house, ABT’s main hometown venue when not on tour. “The prospect of doing this kind of work is very exciting to me, and I am honored to be given the chance.”

Lisa Specht, who chairs the Music Center’s board, said Moore was its first choice among four finalists interviewed this spring.

“I didn’t think we’d ever find anybody this good,” Specht said. “She really understands the arts and how to communicate with people in the arts. What comes across with Rachel is that she has so much energy and drive. She’s a strategist and a creative force. I don’t think you find that combination anywhere. I think we lucked out.”

Moore, 50, is a California native who grew up in Davis, the daughter of an agriculture professor at UC Davis. She said she prides herself on being able to “demystify” the arts for prospective donors from the business community and vice versa.

“Having been a performer as well as an executive, I see myself as a bridge between the artistic community and the business community,” she said. “I speak both languages, and I can do some translating.”

A key challenge for Moore, who has a five-year contract at a salary she and Specht declined to disclose, will be speaking persuasively to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The Music Center hopes county government will fund a large chunk of the cost of long-deferred renovations to its oldest venue, the 51-year-old Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The project is estimated at $350 million.

Specht said she hopes that by the time Moore arrives, the county will have agreed to pay the lion’s share of another project that the Music Center deems vital to its future: a $30-million renovation of its outdoor plaza to make it better suited to performances and other events and to make it more visible and enticing to passersby on Grand Avenue.

The Music Center is asking for the county to provide $25 million for the plaza, Specht said.

Moore showed resiliency and an ability to adapt after her ankle injury in 1988 ended a four-year run with ABT. She had begun her career as a professional dancer straight out of high school.

“I was in a cast for three months, and that’s when I took my SATs at a ripe old age,” Moore said of her convalescence from the injury. She tried to come back as a dancer but realized it would be futile when doctors said she would need more surgery.

Moore enrolled at Brown University in Providence, R.I., then earned a master’s degree in arts administration at Columbia University. Returning to New England, she spent 10 years heading dance education programs in Boston until ABT tapped her as executive director. She is on equal footing with ABT’s longtime artistic director, Kevin McKenzie, on the dance company’s organizational chart.

At the Music Center, Moore will need to establish a fresh start for an organization that often has been seen as an underachiever, apart from its function as a landlord expected to keep the four-venue campus in good order for the resident companies that put on most of the performances. The biggest tenants are the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera and Center Theatre Group.

The Music Center’s forté as an impresario in its own right has been dance, for which it has a sizable endowment. But its series featuring touring dance companies typically involve just a few weeks of performances over the course of a season. The Music Center’s ability to be a vibrant presenter of other performances, and a leading provider of arts education programs, depends largely on its ability to raise money.

Presented with a fund-raising opportunity last fall, when it was celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Music Center fell far short, prompting Carla Sands, the president of its oldest and most active fund-raising support group, the Blue Ribbon, to ask publicly and pointedly what had gone wrong.

In the wake of its fund-raising failure, the Music Center laid off 11 people — including half of its 10-member programming staff and five of its 16 arts education staffers. Even before the layoffs, its once vaunted education programs had seen budgets slashed by more than half in recent years.

The Music Center’s department heads for fund-raising and education left recently. Moore said hiring their replacements is a priority that she’ll tackle even before she formally begins her new job. “I will start working on that before I arrive. Those are two very critical jobs that need to be filled.”

At ABT, Moore said, she set a $10-million goal for special fund-raising in conjunction with the company’s 75th anniversary celebration in January. “We’re well on the way to meet [it],” she said. “Like any good arts organization, you milk an anniversary as long as you can.” She said the 75th anniversary gala on Jan. 11 netted $2.3 million.

Early in her tenure at ABT, Moore had to make difficult calls akin to what the Music Center recently has faced. She instituted layoffs in her first year on the job — arriving after the three previous executive directors had lasted a combined three years amid frequent budget deficits.

“It was hard, but it had to be done,” she told Vogue magazine in 2006.

By the end of 2005, a New York Times headline was hailing Moore as “Ballet Theatre’s Director of Turnaround.” The dance company’s endowment had risen from $8 million to $15 million in the two years since she’d arrived — although the booming investment markets of the mid-2000s played a role in that.

Like virtually all nonprofit endowments, ABT saw its holdings crumble in the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, its endowment dropping to $13.6 million. But it rebounded well — again amid favorable investment markets — reaching $18.7 million by the end of 2014. Notably, ABT was able to land $2.7 million in contributions to the endowment during 2009, giving it a jump start toward recovery.

Moore said that ABT’s budget was $48.2 million in 2014, and it came in with a $4.8-million surplus.

The Los Angeles County government provides $25 million a year to the Music Center for maintenance, utilities, ushers and security at its venues. Whatever else the Music Center might want to accomplish depends largely on its ability to raise money. The same goes for programming in Grand Park, which the Music Center operates under a $5-million-a-year contract with the county.

Contributions to the Music Center have not rebounded significantly since the recession, averaging about $10 million a year since 2009. ABT’s nonprofit tax returns show average annual donations of $16.9 million over the five-year span from 2009 to 2013.

The dance company’s most recent available tax return shows that Moore earned $300,654 in salary and benefits in 2013; as Music Center president, Rountree earned $865,969 the same year.

Howard Sherman, the veteran Music Center manager who’s serving as interim president until Moore arrives, will resume his regular job as chief operating officer.