The Kimmel Center's Next Chapter
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|FROM TOP: Peter Nero and the Philly Pops at Verizon Hall; The inaugural Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, along South Broad Street; a PIFA performance by La Compagnie Transe Express|
These performances run the entertainment gambit. Yo-Yo Ma and K.D. Lang have performed where Chris Rock and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater captivated audiences earlier. The Kimmel’s Broadway Season has brought in nationally renowned shows to record-breaking audiences, with Wicked, The Lion King, Spamalot, and Jersey Boys a mere sampling of the imports. The Kimmel Center umbrella, through its breadth and caliber of performances, truly has helped Philadelphia become a world-class city for the arts. And much of that success has come under the mindful eye of president and CEO Anne Ewers. “We have passed through two extremely important stages: construction and startup,” she said when taking office in 2007. “We are now ready to take a leap forward. I do think that the Kimmel Center is definitely poised for the next stage of evolution in its life cycle.” The evolution has been nothing short of stunning.
In her first year alone, the petite powerhouse—who started her career as an assistant stage director in opera—retired the Kimmel’s $30 million construction debt, helped raise its endowment from $40 million to $72 million, garnered $10 million to establish an annual citywide festival, and even closed the fiscal year with a $1.2 million surplus that could be directed to capital improvements.
But no one was immune from the recent economic downturn, and Ewers used both lauded and maligned measures to ride out the storm. In her restructuring of the center, the number of Kimmel Center Presents series was initially reduced from nine to five. The Kimmel began partnering with copromoters such as Live Nation, AEG, and local impresario Larry Magid to help reach a broader audience and increase revenue while minimizing risk. It assumed management of the University of the Arts’ Merriam Theater in 2009 to help create productions and continued to collaborate with the revered Shubert Organization on theatrical presentations at the Academy and the Forrest Theatre. It even lowered the rent it charges its financially strapped companies, with Ewers calling them the “lifeblood of the Center.”
Ewers’s vision goes beyond numbers and bottom lines. She was the mastermind behind last spring’s inaugural 25-day Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, an idea she first pitched when interviewing for her current position. “From its very inception, our goals for the festival were clear,” says Ewers. “We hoped that both residents and tourists alike would experience—many for the first time—Philadelphia’s treasure trove of arts and culture.” Her hopes were far exceeded. With a $10 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation, PIFA went on to become an unmitigated success. For those 25 days, 135 presentations celebrating music, circus arts, dance, hip-hop culture, architecture, history, film, science, fine arts, literature, and other genres were held in varying venues across the city. The Kimmel served as the hub, of course, with more than 177,000 people stopping in and enjoying some of PIFA’s largest events, including the twice-nightly Eiffel Tower light-and-sound show and the Last Party in Paris. It all culminated with the PIFA Street Fair, during which South Broad Street was flooded with people stunned by the unforgettable midair musical performance by La Compagnie Transe Express.
Now Ewers is on to her next big venture—the Lights Up On Home Anniversary Celebration, in honor of the Kimmel’s 10th anniversary. The celebration pays homage to Philly’s art and culture legends with some 50 events. “Our celebration incorporates the extraordinary talent of this region and mirrors the diverse interests of the regional audience we serve,” she says.
As for the Kimmel Center’s second decade, Ewers is optimistic. “Many new initiatives will take center stage. We want to ensure that the Kimmel Center is a warm and welcoming environment for everyone to enjoy. It should feel like home.” Apt words from the woman who has deftly helped it become just that for legions of Philadelphians.
photography by jeff goldberg (exterior); evelyn taylor (opening); EVELYN TAYLOR (PIFA); RUSTY KENNEDY (TRANSE EXPRESS); jim roese (ewers)