Two of the top arts and culture organizations in the country are seeking leaders.The Getty Museum lost Deborah Gribbon, their esteemed director, six months ago. Then in April, Andrea Rich, director, president and CEO of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, announced her resignation. During Rich’s ten-year tenure, LACMA’s finances improved and the Museum hosted blockbuster exhibitions. Her reign was controversial from the start, as Rich didn’t hail from a fine arts scholarship background. As the searches continue to replace both women, it’s valuable to have the perspective of another arts leader, Deborah Borda, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. including the Hollywood Bowl. The purpose of this column is not to nominate Borda for an art museum job – music is her business. I stopped by to visit Ms. Borda recently at her Disney Hall office. Citing Rich, I asked Borda if vision trumps administrative expertise? “I think if you have a real passion for whatever art it is,” Borda answered, “the individual can transcend.” Borda’s an ex-viola player, a valuable asset when programming 170 events annually at Disney Hall and 100 more at the Bowl. Think: Jimmy Iovine, who was a successful record producer before he became an even more successful music executive. Borda spends more than half her time raising awareness and chasing coin. But she doesn’t mince words when discussing potential supporters. She calls out Hollywood for not being more philanthropic (even though “it is such a wealthy and in many ways such an intelligent and involved community”), and for increasingly using taped scores for films instead of live orchestras. The latter position will please working musicians. Borda coexists with unions, a plus in the entertainment industry. As the former executive director of the New York Philharmonic, she nogotiated a long-term labor agreement. L.A. Phil wages, she says, are the nation’s second highest. Borda’s also opened new venues or re-opened old ones – something the Getty and LACMA chiefs will face. How does one plan for the financial and publicity bounce that sports clubs, museums and orchestras all get when they christen stadiums, galleries and halls? Budget conservatively, she said, and then plan for sustainable growth. “One of our goals at the Philharmonic is exemplified by a cute little saying: ‘How do we turn a love affair into a marriage?’ We’re working very hard on the people who are preliminarily excited by the Walt Disney Concert Hall, at making sure that they become permanent members of the family….If people come into the building [and] have such a visceral, emotional experience being here, they’ll return.” Are there unreasonable expectations on the chiefs of major cultural institutions? Not necessarily if others implemented Borda’s operating principle: “…assemblying great teams of managers, helping to provide a vision, and then empowering them to perform at the highest level they can.” Unger is a leading exec recruiter. At various times, he led the media and entertainment practices of the world’s three largest executive search firms. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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