Kentucky arts leader named 1st choice to direct Miami's new center
By Jaime Levy
Seeking a leader to guide Miami's nascent performing arts center to a 2004 opening, the Performing Arts Center Trust's executive search committee voted Tuesday to start negotiations with Michael Hardy, president of the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
After considering two other candidates - Colin Jackson of Calgary, Canada and Lawrence Simpson of Cleveland - the committee decided that Mr. Hardy's business-like demeanor and specific experience heading a large performing arts center would lessen his learning curve as executive director of Miami's center, a facility long planned but just now becoming bricks and mortar.
"I've got to face the fact that we have to open this place in three years or less," said Parker Thomson, chair of the Performing Arts Center Trust, the group set up by Miami-Dade County to oversee planning, construction and operation of the center. "We need on-the-job skills, with a virtual crisis of opening on time and in an appropriate way."
Although the committee tapped Mr. Hardy, it did so with the understanding that if negotiations with him were to collapse, the Performing Arts Center Trust would start talks with Mr. Simpson, a campus president at Cuyahoga Community College who is a founder of Jazz Fest Cleveland and has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts. Many committee members hailed Mr. Simpson as a passionate leader whose presence at the center, in any capacity, would be valuable.
"I'm completely bogged down between the two," said committee member Eleanor Kluger early in the meeting. "Michael Hardy impressed me as a businessman who knows the business. Larry Simpson impressed me tremendously - I really liked him an awful lot. He's extremely creative. My choice would be to get both of them."
Mr. Hardy said he expected negotiations to go smoothly, even though the Louisville-based Kentucky Center for the Arts has offered him an evergreen contract that would be automatically renewed every three years until he chooses to retire.
"I'm kind of blown away. I've been excited about the potential of it since I was down there the first time," said Mr. Hardy, a former executive director of the International Society for the Performing Arts Foundation. "I don't see any impediments and have the desire to make it work. I'm terribly excited about this. What a fantastic opportunity and what a fantastic city."
Although Mr. Hardy would not say what salary the Kentucky Center proposed, Bud Park of Performance Executive Search & Management Consulting in Coral Gables, which facilitated the search, said Mr. Hardy's salary requirements could exceed $200,000 a year. The center's original leader - Tom Tomlinson, who left in early 2001 - received a base salary of about $170,000, Mr. Thomson said.
"We discussed this before we started the process," Mr. Thomson said. "We recognized that to get the person we wanted, we may have to pay more than we had paid."
Early in the search committee's meeting, it was apparent that the third finalist, Mr. Jackson, of Calgary's EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts, would not be a strong contender. Most committee members expressed preference for either Mr. Hardy or Mr. Simpson, and several had not yet decided between the two. Much of the initial support for Mr. Hardy came from county or resident companies' representatives.
"I found both Michael Hardy and Larry Simpson incredibly impressive," said Assistant County Manager Alina Tejeda Hudak. "I do feel Michael has specific experience in the field, specific operating experience. If I had to hire a generalist administrator, Larry Simpson is incredible. But I feel pretty strongly we're not in the position right now to pick someone in that transition mode."
Assuming negotiations do go through, Mr. Hardy said he would like to move to Miami in a few months, letting his son finish his senior year of high school in the Louisville area - although he said he would consider commuting.
"I'd start right away with a series of meetings with different community groups - what they want out of the center. This is a big community to get my arms around. It has to start from day one. Obviously we're going to have to re-evaluate pro formas and business plans. But that's more a question of numbers. You have to work with finances and logistics. Most importantly, a center like this has to fulfill the community's cultural aspirations. And there are a lot of communities in Miami."
Mr. Hardy's priority echoed words that Steven Wolff, a consultant to the Performing Arts Center Foundation, gave the committee to help guide their discussion.
"The performing arts center world is evolving. Up until the mid-'70s and late '80s, performing arts centers were about creating a place. Lincoln Center is the prototype, a palace on an island. Then they became about creating value - economic development value, city quality value," said Mr. Wolff of Connecticut-based AMS Planning & Research, a firm whose core business comes from arts facilities. "We're going into a third phase, about creating capacity and creating community. After Sept. 11, one of the places people have gone to, to get their sense of life back, is a performing arts center.
"The challenge you face in finding an executive like this is finding someone who can bridge two very, very different worlds. There's a highly technical world, and at the same time, the expectations of the community that has made an investment of billions of dollars into the performing arts center. You need someone who can yield value for that in the community sense of the word."