Industry Insight

Anne Ewers
Maestra of the Avenue of the Arts

Anne Ewers, a petite, sophisticated woman with an indomitable spirit; a passion for music, arts and culture; and plenty of business savvy, has big plans for a crown jewel of Philadelphia’s arts and culture industry.

Like an orchestra maestra, the president and chief executive officer of the Kimmel Center—a landmark concert, theater and entertainment venue at Broad and Spruce streets—must conduct myriad players and transform them into a beautiful symphony.

Her canvas, the Kimmel Center, is a $235 million, 450,000 square-foot architectural masterpiece that opened in December 2001. It contains Verizon Hall, a 2,500-seat concert hall, and the Perelman Theater, a 650-seat recital theater. Both free-standing buildings are entirely enclosed in glass, steel and brick, and capped by an immense glass-and-steel, barrel-shaped, vaulted roof.

“It’s important that we are in a facility that is also artful itself, and therefore, the choice of this extraordinary design,” Ewers said. “Visual arts, performing arts go hand-in-hand, and so it’s important that we celebrate visual arts as well.”

The Kimmel Center is home to six cultural and entertainment entities including the world renowned Philadelphia Orchestra, Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, PHILADANCO, The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society and American Theater Arts for Youth.

Ewers also is in charge of operations at the nearby, recently renovated Academy of Music, home to the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Ballet, and, as of 2009, the 1,700-seat, University of the Arts’ Merriam Theater. The Philadelphia Orchestra owns the 2,900-seat Academy of Music.

Combined, the Kimmel Center, Inc. manages the largest number of resident companies in the country, outside of New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “We really have a campus, and it allows us to offer a wide variety of opportunities in a wide variety of spaces,” Ewers said. And, as head of the Kimmel Center, Inc., Ewers commands a $35 million annual budget and 500 full- and part-time employees.

The Kimmel Center also is a jewel of an economic engine for Philadelphia, drawing more than one million visitors each year and generating sales tax revenue and other spinoff income for the city and local businesses, shops and restaurants. “We basically drive $40 million per year into the economy,” Ewers said.

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Diversifying the Culture of the Arts

Ewers, who took over the baton for managing the Kimmel Center in July 2007, has a multifaceted plan for directing this rich panoply of architecture, music, theater and performance into the future.

Diversity is one key element in her vision. This year, the Kimmel Center is presenting an array of performances that capture the ethnic flavor of Philadelphia.

“We are meant to embrace the community, so we need to be able to offer what the community is interested in seeing,” Ewers said. “Before, we would have maybe 50 percent of our offerings that had either artists or groups of color, but it was us deciding what the community wanted to see. Now, with our new Affinity program, we’re reaching out into the community and saying to the African-American, to the Hispanic, to the Asian communities: ‘What do you want to see on our stage?’ ‘What would you like to help bring to our stage?’”

Visitors to the Kimmel Center, the Academy of Music and the Merriam Theater are treated to a diverse array of performances ranging from classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma to comedians like Chris Rock and Eddie Izzard, to jazz greats like Dave Brubeck and Wynton Marsalis, to contemporary bands like The xx, and Philly favorites like PHILADANCO and Jerry Blavat.

Turning the Eyes of the World to Philadelphia

Ewers also is one of the driving forces behind the first Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts—an explosion of arts and culture that will involve 120 performing, visual and cultural entities, and 32 newly commissioned works of art. Launched with a $10 million donation from the Annenberg Foundation, PIFA is scheduled to take place April 7 through May 1, 2011.

“It’s an opportunity to really put the spotlight on the arts in Philadelphia. There’s so much that we have to offer, and the world needs to know,” Ewers said.

Plans for PIFA started in the spring of 2008 with meetings Ewers held with representatives of the Kimmel Center, Inc.’s resident companies.

But the genesis for PIFA actually dates back to when Ewers first interviewed for the Kimmel Center CEO position.

“When I interviewed for the job, in talking with the search committee and recognizing that the Kimmel Center really is the catalyst for collaboration and creativity, I asked a question, ‘Have you ever done a festival?’ And, people seemed to light up at the idea,” she said, adding that planning began soon after.

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A Landmark Anniversary

December 2011 also will mark the 10th anniversary of the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, and major plans are underway. “We are focusing on the 2011–2012 season to really celebrate the 10th anniversary,” she said. “We will be celebrating it with our resident companies. We will be celebrating it with our audiences and with the community.”

Aside from the celebrations, shows and festivals, Ewers also is working behind the scenes to improve the financial strength of the Kimmel Center’s resident companies and to make capital improvements to the decade-old structure.

Previously, the Kimmel Center provided $4.6 million per year in subsidies to its resident companies through reduced rent and other enhancements. That has been increased to $6 million a year, she said, thanks to a recent restructuring of the Kimmel Center’s operations. According to Ewers, the resident companies are the lifeblood of the Center. “If one of us has a cold, the other one sneezes,” Ewers said of the tightly interwoven relationship between
the Kimmel Center and its resident companies.

Like the National Constitution Center and many other civic, cultural and entertainment venues, the Kimmel Center faces the enormous task of raising funds for capital improvements. “Part of our focus for the next three years is to start with a feasibility plan and to determine how we can solve the capital expenditure problem,” she said.

Next summer, work will continue on improving the acoustics at Verizon Hall. “It’s like a wonderful instrument that needs a little fine-tuning,” Ewers said. Plans are also underway to work on the temperature and sound control of the Hamilton Garden—a tree-lined, rooftop garden above the Perelman Theater that drinks in the sun that shines through the massive, floor-to-ceiling windows at the Kimmel Center’s front entrance off Broad Street. “We’re also looking to move our Cadence restaurant to the first floor,” Ewers said. “I think that will be a wonderful magnet to draw more people into the Kimmel Center.”

A Portrait of Anne Ewers

Heading up a cultural giant like the Kimmel Center, Inc. is quite a heady experience for the Illinois native who got her start in show business by directing plays in her family’s garage in Ottawa, Ill., when she was just six years old. Later, she fell in love with opera after listening to The Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts with her mother. Today, her talent for stage direction and passion for opera and music has taken her around the world, from Canada to New Zealand to Israel.

In her first year as president and CEO, the Kimmel Center, Inc. retired its $30 million construction debt, raised its endowment from $40 million to $72 million, secured $13 million for capital improvements, garnered the $10 million Annenberg grant to launch PIFA and closed the 2007-2008 fiscal year with a $1.2 million surplus to be directed to capital improvements.

Prior to assuming her role as president and CEO of the Kimmel Center, Ewers was president and CEO of the Utah Symphony & Opera. During her tenure there, she doubled the organization’s endowment to $36 million; turned a structural deficit of $1.8 million into a $360,000 surplus; founded the Deer Valley Music Festival, which generates $1.9 million annually; launched the symphony on its first European tour in 19 years, netting $850,000; and recorded the symphony’s first compact disc in 15 years.

Ewers also has held positions as general director of the Utah Opera, 1991–2002; general director of the Boston Lyric Opera, 1984–1989; and assistant stage director at the San Francisco Opera, 1979–1981.

An accomplished opera stage director, Ewers has directed more than 60 opera productions, including Kurt Weill’s “The Seven Deadly Sins of the Petite Bourgeoisie” and Arnold Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” for the Utah Symphony & Opera. Her main stage debut with the San Francisco Opera was in 1988-1989 directing “La Gioconda.”

She holds both a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and Bachelor of Music from Fontbonne College and a Master of Music in Opera Production from the University of Texas at Austin.

Be Passionate About Your Art

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Looking back on her career, Ewers sees each step along the way as a building block. She readily admits that it was quite a challenge transitioning from the creative side of the arts to the business side, joking that in the 1980s, when she became the general director of the Boston Lyric Opera, she had to call her sister for advice. “The second day on the job, I called my sister, who has an MBA, and I said, ‘How do I figure percents on a calculator?’” she said, adding that she eventually helped the Boston Lyric Opera, which was expected to fold, get back into the black and thrive.

She is particularly grateful for having been mentored at an early age and advises students who are considering a career in the arts and culture industry to find a good mentor. For her, that mentor was Lotfi Mansouri, then general director of the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto, Canada. Mansouri allowed Ewers to work with him for six weeks, if she paid her room, board and expenses, and received no salary. “It was the best money I ever spent,” she said. “After four years, he was giving me my own productions to direct. My work was seen by other companies in Canada. I spent probably half of my career in Canada, and my whole career took off from there.”

Students, she said, also should seriously consider a career in arts administration. There is a need, she said, for administrators who not only know the dollars-and-cents of the arts industry, but who also appreciate the beauty as well.

But the most important ingredient to success in the arts and culture industry, she said, is to really enjoy what you are doing. “I think it’s critical that you have the passion. It’s a tough road. There are a lot of sacrifices, and if you have the passion and the desire to do it, you can do anything,” she said. “It’s such a rewarding career.”

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