Mary Deissler, now president of the Chicago Academy for the Arts, will take over as president and CEO of the Charlotte Symphony on June 1, the group announced Friday.
She’ll succeed Robert Stickler, who’s managed a two-straight-year move into the black for the symphony, which had not been there since 2002. Deissler, whose career has focused on arts development, already has a few ideas on how she aims to continue that financial improvement. We asked her a few questions; answers are edited for brevity and clarity.
Q. Your resume looks specifically strong in development: 25 years with Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, then three development jobs in the last seven years, at Save the Children, the L.A. Philharmonic and cultural center Artis-Naples in Florida. What are you most excited about here?
A. I’m excited about really building on the legacy Bob (Stickler) is leaving: an orchestra that’s in good shape, ready to move forward, and working with Christopher Warren-Green, developing some programming ... and then really expanding community engagement.
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Q. You created partnerships with some unexpected places. The Peace Corps?
A. One of the fun things to do is leverage with an unusual partner; you get attention from places you’d never expect. ... One could imagine building the Holocaust program. (The symphony does a “Music and the Holocaust” education program in which a clarinetist plays Klezmer music and talks with students about how music aided survival in concentration camps.) I just found out there’s a Holocaust education director for the state. ... We could start with the core of a really terrific program that’s ours, and make national connections.
Q. What have you learned in your current job – president of an arts high school in Chicago – that will help you with this one?
A. It really helped me focus on the importance of arts to young people. There’s a huge opportunity here, and I’m looking to build on the Winterfield program (the symphony works with musicians at Winterfield Elementary). That’s a great start. I’m eager to look at building on that.
Q. What’s key to your desire to engage the community more?
A. Our (charge) is to clearly demonstrate to the community the value that the orchestra brings, beyond people who attend concerts, to (show what happens) when the orchestra truly embraces its role in the community. You look at community engagement as broad and deep; I’m more interested in going into the deep part. ... And I want to look at surrounding towns and communities (with) folks who would be eager to come to hear the symphony if they didn’t have to drive to Charlotte. Can we get residency performance series out there? The idea that you have to come to our hall and do what we want is old-fashioned. We can’t expect that anymore.