Needed: big gestures, bold strokes

Two of the most important artistic institutions in the valley are looking for new leadership. The timing is strictly coincidental, but the concurrent searches for executive directors at Confluence Gallery & Art Center and The Merc Playhouse come at a crucial juncture for each.

Jane Hubrig is leaving The Merc after six years as managing director, during which time the energetic Julie Wenzel brought an eclectic array of shows to the stage as artistic director. Wenzel was succeeded last year by Ki Gottberg — professional actor, playwright and theater professor at Seattle University — whose goal is to take The Merc up another notch with challenging, high-quality productions. Gottberg has the advantage of being able to tap the talents of her S. U. students, as she did earlier this summer with her production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, to augment what can sometimes be a smallish group of local actors who are available to commit the requisite time.

Recent renovations have upgraded the theater’s seating area, lighting and other amenities to provide a more comfortable and technically capable setting, and The Merc now owns the building.

The top administrative position, renamed “executive director,” will require a wide range of skills and experience which may be difficult to find in one person: management, marketing, fundraising, grant writing, budgeting and bookkeeping. Oh, and the new executive director needs to be a “people person” as well to deal with a variety of constituencies, and also must be someone who can make what amounts to a full-time commitment to a part-time job.

The Merc’s board of directors hopes to find a local person who’s willing and capable to take on what is a demanding role that is played out backstage and doesn’t offer a lot of show biz glamour.

Confluence’s board of directors is willing to look farther afield to find a replacement for Nicole Ringgold, who is leaving the executive director’s job after three years — a departure she hadn’t even considered until the raging Rising Eagle Road Fire destroyed her family’s home. Ringgold said in an interview this week that Confluence deserves its executive director’s full energy, and hers must be directed elsewhere for now.

Confluence has developed into a stellar showcase for local and regional art of extraordinary quality and impressive diversity. Its gift shop, with an intensely local array of offerings, is an excellent starting point for anyone in search of the special and the unusual. Like The Merc, Confluence owns its building and has the ability to generate income from rentals.

The Confluence website describes Ringgold’s responsibilities as “program and financial oversight, personnel management … well-being of organization, strategic planning, fundraising, community development.” Like The Merc’s top job, it’s a demanding set of expectations.

Fortunately, they are attractive jobs for people who may want a leadership role that offers an opportunity to help our artistic community explore and create.

It’s not all about the art. Though they are nonprofits, The Merc and Confluence also have to pay the bills, fill the seats for engaging productions and draw appreciative audiences for world-class art. Their viability is a reflection of the valley’s overall economy.

The Merc and Confluence face each other across Glover Street in Twisp, creating a powerful nexus of artistic allure for local residents and visitors alike. Perhaps someday people will stop being surprised that we are blessed with such accomplished organizations offering top-notch shows and exhibits. Two new, talented leaders may help bring that day closer.

— Don Nelson