New General Manager at White Bird

This morning, while dropping in on Portland Art Watch, we learned that White Bird has hired its first General Manager. The PAW report includes a link to a longer Oregonian article from Grant Butler. As noted by the Oregonian, the selection of Phil Busse, former Portland Mercury managing editor with a "checkered history in Portland" is sure to stir up some controversy. That and the fact that Busse isn't bringing years of arts administration and fundraising experience to the job. I can only imagine what they'll be saying over at Blogtown about this.

Since Paul King and Walter Jaffe launched White Bird in 1997, the organization's staff has grown commensurate with the scope of its programming and audience. All that time, Mr. King and Mr. Jaffe have not only been White Bird's visionaries, community ambassadors and chief curators, they have been enmeshed in the day-to-day business of running an arts business. (All without pay, I might add). Over the eleven performances of anoukvandijk dc's STAU at Oaks Park last month, the pair were even called to duty as stage crew, wrangling seats and risers out of the way for the second half of each performance. It was inevitable that they would need professional management help, and the Murdock Trust was generous enough to grant them three years of funding to underwrite the addition of a full-time General Manager.

Grant Butler quotes Jaffe's comments about the prospect of controversy: "It's obviously not someone you expect since he's not been directly involved with the arts. But there's a level of managerial experience that we needed, and he came to us with some very good ideas. We were impressed with the seriousness of his approach. He has been a controversial figure, but we managed to get beyond that."

Over a dozen years, White Bird's founders have made many bold decisions in their program choices. (I particularly enjoyed watching audience members leaving in the middle of Compagnie Maguy Marin's incredible performance at the Schnitzer several years ago). Their decision to transform the White Bird/PSU series to "White Bird Uncaged" with the temporary closure of Lincoln Hall took some guts and fortitude. Perhaps in these times, a bold choice in management is preferable to a safe choice. And, it is probably smart that the first person to fill a role that will work very very close to the company's founders is not going to be a milquetoast administrator, but someone with ideas. We wish them luck.


culturejock said...

Although there are no comments on this juicy newsbit, I want you to know that lots of people saw this here and went, "Hmmm! THAT'S interesting."

MightyToyCannon said...

What I find interesting is that after the initial flurry of news last week, there's been nothing out there about this. No updates and no further commentary. Perhaps it's a reminder that those of us laboring in the arts world (and, with regard to this story, the media world) live in our own little bubbles. In other words, this story is juicy and interesting to pretty much nobody but us!