David Binder, artistic director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, will step down in July as the venerable institution faces the continuing challenge of turnover and pandemic restructuring after decades of stability on its leadership team.
Beginning to present works in 1861 and describing itself as the nation’s oldest performing arts center, BAM has long played an important role in New York’s cultural life, presenting adventurous theatre, film, music and dance from artists from around the world. But the institution has been quieter than some at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, and Binder’s departure will follow the departure of the corporation’s president Katy Clark in 2021 and the death of board chairman Adam Max in 2020.
Binder joined BAM as artistic director in 2019, significantly shortening his tenure from two of his predecessors, Joseph V. Melillo, who spent 35 years at the institution, and Harvey Lichtenstein, who led BAM’s artistic endeavors for 32 years.
Similarly, on the executive side of the agency, Clark left BAM after five years on the job (his holding an apartment helped the agency buy it); Karen Brooks, who had spent 36 years at the institution, including 16 presidents, had replaced Hopkins. The current president of BAM is Gina Duncan, who took office last year after a year when this position was vacant.
Binder, who produced arts festivals as well as Broadway shows before joining the agency, said she left voluntarily and plans to return to commercial production after leading the nonprofit’s artistic programs during the pandemic and change. executive staff of the organization.
BAM said Binder will continue to consult with the organization until next January as it searches for a new arts leader. Binder began working with Melillo when his appointment was announced in early 2018.
“I feel like I’ve accomplished what I started doing there and I want to get back to doing business and generating work,” Binder said in an interview. “I want to keep growing.”
Duncan similarly described the transition, “David has decided to move on, and I’m grateful he’s letting me know now.” “We have a strong team and I have time to search and find someone to be my artistic partner,” he added.
Binder’s departure comes when many performing arts institutions across the country are seeing peak turnover – New York’s theater leaders tended to outlast most, which is both a source of criticism and stabilization, but San is experiencing wholesale change. Francisco, Chicago and elsewhere.
Binder, 55, has drawn some exciting work for BAM, primarily presenting programs developed by other companies.
“Cyrano de Bergerac,” starring James McAvoy and transferred from London, which was delayed due to the pandemic last year, was both a critical and popular success and became the best-selling show in BAM Harvey Theater history. And this month, BAM became the only institution to have two shows on The New York Times’ list of things to look forward to this year: theater critic Jesse Green wrote that it’s looking forward to an Oscar-winning production of “The Sign in Sydney Brustein’s Window.” Starring Isaac and Rachel Brosnahan and dance critic Gia Kourlas, BAM wrote with hope about the US premiere of Pina Bausch’s work “Água,” which he created in Brazil two decades ago.
Binder came to BAM saying he wanted to bring in new artists – the first New Wave festival there in 2019 featured only artists who had not performed there before. During his tenure, Binder said he would present more than 50 artistic group debuts and solo artists.
Ticket sales in his time often exceeded estimates; BAM says it’s attracting new viewers, and there are a number of highlights on the show: BAM’s adaptation of Simon Stone’s “Medea,” starring Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavale; a new spring music series curated by Hanif Abdurraqib last year and by Solange this year; and an annual artist guest show.
“Thanks to the pandemic and leadership changes, I feel like the team at BAM and I are focused on doing great things on stage, and when we couldn’t do that on stage, we did it outdoors or on-site. or virtually. The work we’ve done has been really successful,” he said. : The National Theater of Korea had the opera ‘Women of Troy’ and ‘Kiki and the Herb Sleigh’; Venice had the Golden Lion-winning Lithuanian opera ‘Sun & Sea’; we also hosted the world premiere of Madonna’s ‘Madame X’ tour. ”
Binder is best known in the commercial arena as executive producer of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” which won the 2014 Tony Award for best animated musical. Binder said he will soon announce that “Hedwig” will “finally arrive”. West End in a big way.
Beyond “Hedwig,” Binder is one of a handful of commercial producers who continue to focus on making plays that tend to be riskier than musicals. He says he plans to restart his long-running work to bring German director Thomas Ostermeier’s production “An Enemy of the People” to Broadway. (Last fall, Binder brought Ostermeier’s “Hamlet” to BAM; the production was in German, but “An Enemy of the People” would be presented in English.)
Binder says he’s working with innovative British director Jamie Lloyd, who directed the “Cyrano” animation at BAM, to develop a new game that he’s not yet ready to reveal.
BAM, like other arts organisations, shrank at the height of the pandemic, but is now almost back to its former position, according to a spokesperson: Its current annual budget has increased from $55 million pre-pandemic to $56 million; It has 222 full-time staff positions out of 256; the most recent Next Wave festival had 13 shows out of 16 before the outbreak; and last spring BAM presented 17 shows, down from 16 in the fall before the pandemic.
“I think we did the best we could, given the conditions of the world,” Duncan said. “We’ve had some success with audience growth and our membership is starting to grow again. Everything is going in the right direction and it’s only a matter of time.”