Monday, February 9, 2015

Indianapolis Opera looks in new directions under a new general director, Kevin Patterson

Kevin Patterson, a veteran opera administrator who grew up here and graduated from Warren Central High School and Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, is the new director of Indianapolis Opera.

Kevin Patterson now heads Indianapolis Opera
Patterson has been charged by the company's board to "make a successful opera company," he told me this morning, speaking by phone from IO's offices. "We need to get back on our feet, and build this company again."

The company failed to complete its 2013-14 season, canceling the final production (Benjamin Britten's "Albert Herring"), and making structural changes that caused the departure of artistic director James Caraher within a year of the dismissal of executive director John Pickett. Since then, fundraising and marketing research resulted in the process that led Patterson to return home in a newly created position: general director.

"The current financial situation is that all of our debts are paid," Patterson said. "We're in good shape financially. I've told the board: The only way you make money in opera is don't do any. It's not a moneymaking proposition; you can't just sell tickets and cover your costs."

The advantage to "lying fallow," Patterson went on, is that the opportunity arose to remake the company's programming. "We don't have to do things in either Clowes Hall or the Basile Opera Center," he said. "And we have the opportunity not to think of a traditional season of November to April; we're interested in becoming a year-round organization."

Patterson promised that by early March, public announcement of company programs to take place before the end of the year will be made. "We're going to look at the repertory with a view to matching it to our audience," he predicted. The result may make Clowes Hall, where Indianapolis Opera has traditionally placed its fully staged productions, "a distant option." Other venues, in addition to the company's home at Basile Opera Center, are likely to include Scottish Rite Cathedral, the Pike Center for the Performing Arts, and the Schrott Center (Clowes' new neighbor on the Butler University campus).

Patterson comes back to Indianapolis after holding executive positions with opera companies in Pittsburgh, Austin, and Anchorage.  During two seasons in Alaska (2012-2014), in which he moved from Anchorage Opera consultant to its  executive director, he resolved its debt issues, he said. Patterson parted ways amicably after letting the board know he wanted to return to Indiana. Though they loved Alaska, he and his wife have a 10-year-old daughter, a violinist and competitive swimmer, and thought relocation here would be more suitable for the family.

"Now that we have addressed our behind-the-scenes issues," said Arnold C. Hanish, Indianapolis Opera board president, in a prepared statement, "we have attracted a respected and experienced Hoosier arts leader to bring us back to the stage."

Patterson summed up the result of recent research, both from an outside firm and through Steven Stolen, a veteran local musician and arts manager,  like this: "The audience wants quality. People want to get out of having a formalized season. And we have a sizable segment that wants to have more than the standard fare. And they want to see other venues, and  have different experiences."

Collaboration will be part of the picture, he added. On-site educational programming for midtown neighborhoods will be one significant use of the Basile Opera Center, 4011 N. Pennsylvania St. "It will become more of a creative place," Patterson said of the company's home. "Those kinds of broad concepts have been a great advantage to opera companies, regardless of where they are. Too often they have missed out on the idea that out of opera so many other kinds of arts emerge."