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Commentary: Many new faces head local arts and cultural organizations

Nancy Kranzberg

St Louisans are welcoming many new faces to head up some of our city's most prestigious arts and cultural institutions.

David Robertson will pass the baton to Stéphane Denève who will serve as the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's 13th Music Director beginning with the 2019/2020 season.

Currently, Denève is Music Director of the Brussels Philharmonic and Principal Guest Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He credits his big break in the United States to SLSO Conductor Laureate Leonard Slatkin, who heard him perform in Europe and alerted orchestras in the U.S. about his emerging talent.

Denève's genuine commitment to exploring innovative projects reflects his respect for David Robertson's outstanding legacy in St. Louis. And he is committed to enhancing the SLSO's artistic, educational, community and media outreach programs.

Tom Ridgely is at the helm of the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis and has already shown an incredible production of Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare Glen in Forest Park. Encompassing both artistic and executive leadership roles, the executive producer is in charge of not only the Forest Park production, but "Shakespeare in the Streets," the "Shake 38 Marathon," and the new "In the Works" Festival, as well as a host of many other programs for students.

Ridgely is a Drama Desk nominated director, producer and educator and comes to us from Waterwell in New York which he founded in 2002 with actor Arian Moayed.

Andrew Jorgensen is Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ fourth general director in the company's 43 year history. He comes to us from the Washington National Opera at the Kennedy Center where he was Director of Planning and Operations. He worked closely with Timothy O'Leary during the 2018 Festival Season.

Just one of Jorgensen's accomplishments is how he advanced initiatives to broaden access to opera, deepening relationships with high school students in the D.C area through the "Young Associates" program and increasing inclusiveness for audience and members in the autism spectrum through developing sensory friendly performances of the company's annual holiday operas.

Mark Witzling has been named the new Executive Director of Craft Alliance Center of Art and Design. Witzling comes from the for-profit Citi-Bank to the not-for-profit world. He has worked with such non-profits as Executive Connections St. Louis, Kids in the Middle and Hope Creates.

Members of the Craft Alliance board said that Witzling has come at a turning point as the organization seeks to strengthen the programming and renew its focus on its mission. Vicki Sauter, chair of the board, said, "Mark brings with him not just years of demonstrated leadership, but a great passion for the arts."

Kathleen Bibbins is the new executive director of the St. Louis Fashion Fund. Bibbins has an extensive background in business and corporate strategy. The Fashion Fund is reclaiming the city's fashion roots. Bibbins says, "Together we're supporting emerging designers, stimulating local interest in the industry and building awareness of global fashion trends. We are putting St. Louis back on the map as the fashion capitol. 

And we have a new museum at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Stephen and David Sachs Museum which was Henry Shaw's original museum and library. Nezka Pfeifer, the Curator, develops exhibitions interpreting the diverse collections of plant specimens, archival materials, fine art and biocultural objects belonging to the Garden. Prior to working at the Garden, Pfeifer was the Curator of the Everhart Museum of Natural History, Science and Art in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Laumeier Sculpture Park welcomes Lauren Ross as its new Director. Ross has 25 years’ experience as a contemporary arts curator, writer and arts administrator. She has had various prestigious positions such as Director and Chief Curator of White Columns Gallery in New York City and Curator of the New York City Hi Line Park. She brings excitement and enthusiasm to Laumeier.

Let's give all these new artistic directors a big St. Louis hello as they bring their special and unique skills to our cultural institutions.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for more than thirty years on numerous arts related boards.