West Coast ballet veteran Arthur Jacobus to lead Atlanta ballet

By Maria Saporta
Friday, November 27, 2009

The Atlanta Ballet has named a seasoned arts and cultural leader as its new executive director.

Arthur Jacobus has worked in the ballet field for nearly 20 years, serving as president of the Pacific Northwest Ballet and executive director of the San Francisco Ballet.

Jacobus also has held other positions in the arts and cultural world, including his most recent post as CEO and executive director of the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, founded by internationally-renowned glassmaker Dale Chihuly.

“Arthur operates at a certain level in the dance community,” said Allen Nelson, chairman of the Atlanta Ballet board, who is also general counsel and chief administrative officer for Crawford & Co.

Nelson said that the appointment of Jacobus as executive director is a signal to the community of the Atlanta Ballet’s dedication to having a world-class company.

“We have made a commitment of having someone who is at the very top tier of ballet administration in the country,” Nelson said. “We think that demonstrates our commitment to making the Atlanta Ballet a long-term success.”

This past April, Atlanta business and arts leader Virginia Hepner agreed to step in as interim executive director of the Atlanta Ballet following the departure of Barry Hughson, who left Atlanta to take the lead position of the Boston Ballet.

Hepner said she will stay on until Jacobus comes on board on Jan. 4, and that she will be available after that time to make sure there’s a smooth transition.

“By far, he was our first choice,” Hepner said. “I can’t imagine a more capable person to take this job. I think he’ll be a wonderful leader in the arts and cultural community in Atlanta.”

Jacobus said he is delighted to be moving to Atlanta and to be returning into the world of ballet. After spending 20 years in ballet, he wanted to explore other roles in the arts and cultural fields, but he found himself “yearning” to return to ballet.

“I want to go back to something I truly love and something I really know how to do,” Jacobus said. “Atlanta is an exciting city, and it really appeals to me. It has a rich arts environment.”

Jacobus said he also is looking forward to working with the Atlanta Ballet’s longtime artistic director, John McFall.

“I’ve become very excited about the people I will be working with at the Atlanta Ballet,” said Jacobus, who has signed a five-year contract. “I want to bring that kind of leadership stability. I think I bring some credibility given my past ballet experience, and I think I will be able to hit the ground running.”

Nelson said Jacobus’ appointment is one of several positive developments for the Atlanta Ballet. It currently is in the throes of a $14.8 million capital campaign, and it has already raised $13.6 million.

That campaign has enabled the Atlanta Ballet to buy and renovate a new home in the west side of town at 1695 Marietta Blvd. The large structure, which was built as a distribution center in the 1950s, has a large wing span that is ideal for its dance studios, administrative offices, educational offerings, the costume shop and for warehouse space.

“I do think it’s a really exciting time for the Atlanta Ballet,” Nelson said. “We believe we have a lot of momentum to making the business model sustainable over time.”

Jacobus, 69, is looking at the Atlanta Ballet as the culmination of his career, and that he hopes he “can turn up the dial” on fundraising, ticket sales and economic stability for the organization.

“I’m still at a point in life where I feel younger and look younger than my age,” Jacobus said. “I think Atlanta is the kind of city I can learn to love and commit to. I’m doing this for the fun of it. I want my last job to be thoroughly enjoyable — I want it to be challenging, but I also want it to be rewarding.”

And then Jacobus took the longer view: “When I leave Atlanta after five years or more, I really do want to leave a legacy.”

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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