“We’ve had a lack of color at the senior level, so this is a good step in the right direction…”

By Bobbi Booker
The Book Report

Just three months after Natalye Paquin came to the Kimmel Center as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer she’s been tapped to replace Janice Price, who served as the Kimmel Center’s President and CEO since February of 2002, shortly after the complex opened. This appointment, effective September 10, marks the first time an African American has lead the helm of the Kimmel Center, Inc.

“Absolutely, I’m proud to be an African American and proud to be in a leadership position here at the Kimmel Center,” said Paquin. “But if you recall, the Kimmel Center was designed to be center for all people and a center for the community and I think my leadership here and my joining the team is really about that. Our goal is to serve diverse audiences and my joining the team is really an extension of that vision.”

At the same time, the center announced the formation of a search committee, chaired by Paul Tufano, to recruit a permanent replacement for Price, who has returned to her hometown of Toronto to head a new arts festival, “Luminato,” which opens in June of 2007.

Paquin emphasized her appointment is temporary, and is something she’s neither wants nor sought out. “It is an acting appointment, which is really just an extension of my permanent appointment,” explained Paquin who has requested the search committee not to consider her. “Being the top person is not a position that I am interested in. I was asked to serve in this capacity based on my skills and experience and I accepted the position, but it’s just an extension of my already complex position.”

Paquin’s association with the Kimmel Center begin in earnest three years ago when she was tapped by Mervon Mehta, Vice President for Programming and Education, to serve on the Education Audience Outreach Committee. Prior to joining the Kimmel Center, Paquin was the Chief Operating Officer of the School District of Philadelphia and oversaw a $400 million organization with over 4,700 employees. Before coming to Philadelphia, she held several senior positions with the City of Chicago’s school district and transportation department.

“Natalye comes to us with great experience in running large institutions, or large school districts, with complex budgeting and structure,” said Mehta. “She’s use to dealing with large pictures.”

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Kimmel Center, Inc, the umbrella non-profit organization that owns, manages, supports and maintains the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts as well as the Academy of Music, which is owned by the Philadelphia Orchestra Association. This summer the organization witnessed a number of changes, including the appointment James Undercofler, the new president and chief executive officer of The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. Also, for the first time, the organization, which employs about 100 people, ended its 2005-06 performance season with an operating surplus of $1.2 million.

“Maybe we have a five-year-itch instead of a seven-year-itch,” laughed Mehta in reflection.

The Kimmel Center, which includes Verizon Hall as its major performance stage, has become one of the more prestigious venues for world-class performers. However, many Philadelphia residents have yet to visit the venue based on the perception that programming is not targeted to their taste with some of the more serious charges alleging class or racial bias in the acts chosen for performance. Paquin is aware of the complaints and has pledged that the organization will become more community oriented.

“I think that what you’ll see in the coming months and over the next few years are several members of our leadership being active in the community, being on more boards and going out speaking and meeting and listening to the communities to find out what more can we offer to be a better center,” said Paquin. “I think that the Kimmel Center is still young and audiences throughout the region, especially in the Philadelphia community, are still learning who we are and what we offer. I think that our programming is becoming more diverse. We have some additional work to do in terms of letting all communities know who we are and what type of programming we offer, and also helping all communities feel invited to the Kimmel Center and helping communities understand that we are a center for them.”

Paquin said she would encourage more residents to visit the Kimmel Center in person, or virtually on the web, so that they can see the venue as more than a performance center and start to utilize it for meetings or personal events, like weddings. “We have a very large facility that serves multiple purposes and should be used by all people in all communities,” said Paquin.

“She’s so connected to the city,” added Mehta. “And I think she’s going to be a great leader and spokesperson for us. It doesn’t hurt that our second president since we’ve been open is a person of color in a city that’s over 50 percent people of color. If you look at our staff overall, we’ve had a lack of color at the senior level, so this is a good step in the right direction. It sends a message. George Burrell is on our board, along with Kenny Gamble, and we’re actively looking for more diversity on the board. That’s something that’s constant conversation here.”

Paquin has been immersed in the artistic and community life of Philadelphia and serves on numerous boards and committees including the education committees of the Kimmel Center and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the Philadelphia Boys Choir, and the Center for Emerging Visual Artists. She is also active with the Girl Scouts of South Eastern Pennsylvania, Project Home and City Year.

“I am a champion for the arts,” said Paquin. “If more of our communities really just experience the arts and cultures that are so abundant here in Philadelphia I think that it’s just something that will improve the quality of life.”

For more information visit http://www.kimmelcenter.com



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