Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Changes come to Indianapolis Opera

Still adjusting to a lingering recovery from the 2008 recession, Indianapolis Opera today announced some top administrative changes, chiefly the resignation of executive director John C. Pickett to take on a new role as consultant.

Carol Baker, active in arts adminstration for many years with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Center for the Performing Arts, has been on the opera company staff since last August.  She becomes interim general manager, overseeing a budget of about $2 million for the 2013-14 season. The company's 35-member board will complete a strategic plan before setting up a search committee to find Pickett's successor, she said.

Baker sounded optimistic notes repeatedly in an interview with me Wednesday afternoon."We have a really strong board now," she said, "and we've undertaken new strategic planning to propel us into a stronger position. We've been through some difficult times, but I think we're in an upswing."

Pickett served 16 years as Indianapolis Opera's executive director.  During his tenure, the 39-year-old company acquired a new performing and rehearsal home, the Basile Opera Center in the 4000 block of North Pennsylvania Street. Three of the upcoming season's four productions  — Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, Weill's The Threepenny Opera, Britten's Albert Herring and Puccini's Girl of the Golden West — will take place there. Season subscriptions to the all-20th-century season are on sale now: More information is at Single tickets go on sale Sept. 1.

Returning a call Wednesday from his home in Columbus, Pickett, 55, said that the consultancy arrangement was his idea. "I didn't want my departure to be disruptive," he said. "I knew I could help with donor relationships, the cash flow is good and I feel the company is turning the corner."

Pickett expressed high praise for James Caraher, the company's artistic director since 1995, and Baker, whom he called "one of the best, most well-rounded arts administrators I've worked with."

He said he expects his work as consultant will conclude by Dec. 31, and he plans to turn his attention more to volunteer work with the Columbus mayor's office getting statewide cultural-district status for downtown Columbus and helping his partner, Jeff Baker, run his gift store there.

Baker said her charge from the board includes helping with restructuring and "aligning the Opera with what the community needs and wants. How can we help it grow? Relevance is key."

Working with neighborhood organizations on events at the Basile Opera Center and using the Indianapolis Opera Ensemble in ways beyond presenting set programs are among the ideas being explored.

Having Caraher become "more involved in telling our story in ways that we haven't done before" is another avenue Baker will be developing. "He can be the proverbial face of the company," she said. "He can lead conversations with donor prospects.  When he talks about opera, he can light up the room."

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