Column: Atlanta Ballet leader John McFall to step down in 2016

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on September 4, 2015.

As artistic director of the Atlanta Ballet for 21 years, John McFall has seen company go through thick and thin. When he arrived in 1994, the Ballet didn’t even have a development office.

“In the 21 years, there have been plenty of times when I put my head on the pillow, and I didn’t know if we’d be here in a week’s time,” McFall said in an interview Sept. 2. “There were probably a half dozen times in 21 years, which really isn’t so bad. They were more frequent earlier on.”

The Atlanta Ballet announced Sept. 2 that McFall will be stepping down from the company on June 1, 2016, after the completion of the 2015-2016 season.

A series of special events, including a special 20th anniversary celebration around the Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker, the first production he created as artistic director. McFall is only the third artistic director in the Atlanta Ballet’s history, which dates back to 1929, making it the oldest ballet company in the nation. Under his leadership, the Atlanta Ballet has experienced tremendous growth–both on and off the stage.

He founded the Ballet’s Centre for Dance Education in 1996, which now has more than 1,200 students in its enrollment division and reaches more than 60,000 students and adults through its community programming.

During his tenure, the Ballet had its most successful fundraising effort, the “Choreographing Our Future” capital campaign, which raised $20.7 million and permitted the opening of the organization’s new home on Atlanta’s Westside.

“The Ballet is very sustainable,” he says. “It’s been through highs and lows, but it is flourishing. It has matured into an organization that is really firing on all cylinders.”

When asked how it compares to when he joined in 1994, McFall said: “It’s like going from a tricycle to a motorcycle. And it’s prepared to take huge strides going forward.”

McFall, however, was quick to say that there were many partners along the way who helped make sure the Atlanta Ballet survived its tough times and enabled it to reach its current stability.

When the company couldn’t even afford a live orchestra, civic leaders Lynda Courts and Patti Wallace were instrumental in bringing back live music. Wallace actually funded the orchestra for many years.

There was banker Charlie Shufeldt, builder Tommy Holder and his wife, Beth, who served as board chair “and lived in the trenches with us.” There was Coca-Cola’s Joseph Gladden and philanthropist Chris Carlos who named the dance center after his father, Michael Carlos.

McFall, who said there were too many friends and supporters to name, mentioned Lavona Currie, who has been “central to the family forever;” Jane Dean, a friend of the Ballet for years; Ginny Brewer, Lynn Cochran Schroder and Audrey Morgan.

When McFall started, the Ballet’s annual budget was at $3.3 million. Today it is nearly three times that, at $9.8 million. It also has built up its endowment to $4 million, and its strategic plan calls for increasing it to $17 million.

After the Ballet’s 85th annual meeting in late July, the company announced that it had a record $3.1 million in box office sales, the highest in the last 20 seasons. The Centre for Dance Education’s revenue exceeded $2.2 million. And there was an increase of more than $1 million in contributed income from the year before — including more than $650,000 in foundation support — for a total of $4.1 million.

Allen Nelson was re-elected to his seventh term as chairman, and the board approved three new members: Ghislaine v. G. Austin, regional head of Northern Trust Wealth Management; Meria Carstarphen, superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools; and community volunteer Barbara Joiner.

Looking ahead, McFall, 68, said that when he leaves the Atlanta Ballet, he and his family will be moving to Amsterdam so he can support his wife’s interests in mystical studies and healing. They also want their two daughters, ages 11 and 8, to experience the multi-cultural offerings in Europe.

In the meantime, McFall is focused on the 2015–2016 season.

“I’m looking forward to the season with a lot of excitement,” McFall said, adding that it includes two world premiers. “This last season, for me, will be one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.”

Newell Rubbermaid

At its third-annual Global Day of Service on Sept. 2, Newell Rubbermaid announced that it is donating $3 million in school supplies as part of the company’s partnership the Kids in Need Foundation.

The company’s leading brands will be given to about 130,000 teachers and will benefit more than 3.7 million students.

Newell Rubbermaid will work in 16 U.S. cities with the Kids In Need Foundation, a nonprofit that provides free school supplies nationally to students most in need,. It will donate 10,000 backpacks for students and 8,200 “Teacher Toolboxes” for teachers through the end of the school year.

Each “Teacher Toolbox” includes Sharpie markers and highlighters; Paper Mate pens, pencils and erasers; Expo markers; and Mr. Sketch markers packaged in a Rubbermaid storage container.

The company also said that during its Global Day of Service about 3,500 employees in 23 countries participated at 105 sites in 23 countries.

“Newell Rubbermaid understands that children need the proper tools in order to learn and succeed in school, and not all children go to school with a backpack filled with supplies,” said Dave Smith, executive director of the Kids In Need Foundation. “With the proper school supplies, students’ classroom behavior improves and grades go up, because kids feel they have a better chance of achieving in the classroom. Newell Rubbermaid is once again stepping up to provide supplies so that more students can have confidence in the classroom this year.”

During this year’s Global Day of Service, Newell Rubbermaid also partnered with Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, to identify volunteer projects for employees.

MUST Ministries new board members

Five new directors are being added to the board of MUST Ministries, a Marietta-based nonprofit that serves about 31,000 impoverished individuals each year in eight north Atlanta counties.

The new board members are David Allen Haskett, vice president and corporate controller for Genuine Parts Co., where he has served for more than 20 years; Linda Nichols Hasty, president and CEO of Abigail Enterprises LLC; Jamey Lutz, area performance improvement manager for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.; Drew P. Shambarger, market president for the Northwest Atlanta metro market for BB&T Bank; and Ryne Van Gorp, chief financial officer for Aclara Technologies.

“A great part of the success and significance that MUST Ministries has experienced in its 44-year history is due to an amazing group of board members throughout its history,” said Ike Reighard, the nonprofit’s president and CEO. “I am honored and blessed to welcome the addition of five new board members who will carry well the legacy of MUST and enhance its future effectiveness as we ‘Serve Our Neighbors In Need.’”

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper board

Mary Anne Lanier, the daughter of the late Ray Anderson (a pioneering environmental leader in the business community), has been named to the board of the Chattahoochee Riverkeepers.

Anderson was a longtime supporter of the organization–receiving its River Guardian Award in 2010 and serving on its advisory board for several years.

Lanier said that hat her appointment on the board helps her continue her father’s legacy with a local organization he loved. She also is continuing his legacy by serving on the Advisory Council of the National Wildlife Federation and on the Dean’s Council of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

Georgia Tech and the Arts

C4 Atlanta and the Office of the Arts at Georgia Tech recently announced a new partnership to present TechsmARTs, a bi-monthly meet-up on using technology as a tool to help artists and arts administrators build their careers.

The Georgia Tech partnership will allow C4 Atlanta to continue TechsmARTs, a program that the arts group initiated five years ago as a discussion group focused on the intersection of arts and technology.

“This partnership happened very organically,” said Jessyca Holland, C4 Atlanta’s executive director. “C4 Atlanta has always held the belief that artists and technologists are creative thinkers who have more in common than not. The Office of the Arts values this belief. I am thrilled to be working together with them.”

Meanwhile, one of C4’s cofounders, Joe Winter, is leaving the organization on Sept. 18 as its deputy director. But Winter will continue to serve on its board.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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