New York City Ballet Taps Phillips Oppenheim to Find Artistic Director

September 24, 2018 – A number of executive search firms have been on the hunt for artistic directors for their non-profit clients. New York City Ballet (NYCB) and the School of American Ballet (SAB) is the latest — selecting boutique recruiters Phillips Oppenheim to help find its next artistic leader. Principal Sarah James and partner Becky Klein are leading the assignment.

Peter Martins, the company’s longtime artistic director, retired in January in the wake of accusations of sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse, which Mr. Martins denies. A subsequent lawsuit by a ballerina charging NYCB with condoning a “fraternity-like atmosphere” degrading to women has resulted in the resignation of one dancer, whom NYCB said it intended to fire, and the dismissal of two others.

Under a shared leadership structure, the artistic director is responsible for providing the overall creative leadership for both organizations, including the training and development of dancers and ensuring that the Balanchine and Robbins repertory and aesthetic are maintained and remain relevant for generations to come, said the New York City-based search firm.

The individual is expected to continue, and build upon, the legacies of George Balanchine, Lincoln Kirstein, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins, preserving and presenting the heritage repertory while continuing NYCB’s commitment to creating a new ballet repertory through the ongoing commissioning of innovative new works from choreographers, composers, theatrical designers and other artists.

Close Collaboration

The artistic director will work in close collaboration with the executive director of NYCB and participate actively in NYCB’s marketing, fundraising, production and education activities, said Phillips Oppenheim. The individual will work equally closely with the executive director and the chairman of faculty at SAB to ensure that the school’s curriculum fully supports the training of dancers for the dance company and the field in general.

The new artistic director will report to the boards of both NYCB and SAB alongside their respective executive directors and be actively engaged in short-term and long-range planning for both organizations, said the recruitment firm. It is expected that the artistic director will be committed to creating and sustaining an organizational culture that values and embodies diversity, inclusion and racial equity.


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Among the priorities for the role, NYCB and SAB want an artist director who will ensure the future of the Balanchine and Robbins repertory, preserving and protecting the legacy while keeping it fresh, vibrant, and relevant; bring a keen eye to the selection of dancers for the company and actively participate in their training and development; have a compelling vision for the future of ballet and how NYCB can, through its programming, be seen as a leader in the field and engage both current and new audiences; and work with NYCB’s executive director and marketing staff to sharpen and build the company’s brand locally, nationally and internationally through traditional and digital platforms.

The artistic director should be a humane leader for whom people wish to perform their best, said Phillips Oppenheim. The individual will ideally also be an alumna or alumnus of SAB and NYCB.

A Deep Commitment

Candidates should have a deep and passionate commitment to the Balanchine and Robbins aesthetic and repertory; demonstrated artistic leadership success as a programmer and/or company leader for an organization known for quality and excellence; an eye for talent; the ability to select the best dancers, choreographers, teachers, and coaches and encourage their development; and a commitment to teaching and the ability to inspire dancers to perform at the highest possible levels of artistry and technical ability.

Also required is an understanding of how ballet fits into a larger cultural landscape; cultural acuity and a vision for the future of the art form; a deep appreciation for and keen sense of music and the ability to partner successfully with the music director and his team; and charisma, gravitas and the stature to command the respect of the company, the school and the dance community as a whole, among other expectations.

Related: The New York Pops Turns to Greenwich Harbor Partners for Board Directors

NYCB and SAB share a common heritage, having been founded by the same two visionaries, George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, with an inextricably linked artistic purpose. While NYCB and SAB are two independent not-for-profit organizations, with distinct missions, budgets, staffs, and boards of directors, the continued vitality of both NYCB and SAB depends upon the strength of their mutual links and on their joint pursuit and cultivation of a specific, shared artistic tradition.

SAB, the official school of NYCB, was founded in 1934 with a mission to develop dancers for professional ballet careers. NYCB, established in 1948, is one of the foremost dance companies in the world, with an unparalleled repertory of ballets, nearly all created for NYCB, and many of which are considered modern masterpieces.

Finding Mission-Driven Leaders

Phillips Oppenheim, established in 1991, provides mission-driven organizations with senior leaders from the business, public and non-profit sectors. It sponsors roundtable discussions, participates in workshops and conferences and acts as informal counsel to non-profit organizations and their boards.

Related: Alexander Whitehead Places Artistic Director at Arts Club Theater

The firm recently recruited senior leaders for other non-profit organizations, including Matthew Teitelbaum as executive director of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Salvador Salort-Pons as director, president and CEO of the Detroit Institute of Arts; Linda McNeil Tantawi as CEO for the Greater New York City affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure; and Judy Harris Kluger as executive director of Sanctuary for Families.

Ms. James, of Phillips Oppenheim, has been finding talent for local, national and international non-profit institutions and corporations since 1996. She has recruited executives for leading aide, advocacy, cultural, education, environmental, faith-based, healthcare, philanthropic and social service institutions.

Ms. Klein, meanwhile, has combined search experience with the arts during her professional career. She has conducted searches for the Metropolitan Opera, the Animal Medical Center, GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis), Lincoln Center, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Related: Catherine French Group Finds Leader for New Spire Arts

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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