George Thompson, former professional dancer and general manager of the American Conservatory Theater, has been named as the new director of the Ferst Center for the Arts.
He steps into the position more than a year after former director Jay Constantz left Tech. Stephanie Lee, marketing director of the Ferst Center, served as interim director until Thompson was appointed last month.
As manager of the American Conservatory Theater, Thompson was responsible for organizing the production and operation of 14 shows per year. At the Ferst Center, he will be in charge of not only organizing each season’s performances but also administration and fundraising, among other things.
“Early in my career, I worked at the State University of New York. That gave me a very student-centric perspective on managing a campus arts program. So coming to Tech is like a homecoming experience for me,” Thompson said.
Thompson has over two decades of experience in managing arts organizations. One of his most significant accomplishments was increasing the budget of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center’s operating budget from $7 million to $27 million while serving as executive vice president there.
“We had three very strong finalists, but George stood out because of his background and interviewing ability. He is really the best person to take the Ferst Center to its next level,” said Bill Schafer, vice president of Student Affairs, who chaired the search committee for a new director.
According to Schafer, after the former director left, a company called the Management Consultants for the Arts Inc. worked with Tech to develop a comprehensive report on what the future direction of the Ferst Center should be. One of the recommendations was that the Center needed to deepen its connections with the academic side of campus.
“I think there are many condnections that we can draw between the arts and engineering. Dance and architecture, for example, use a lot of the same nomenclature.
Trying to find those connections while bringing world-class art to the campus is a main part of what I want to do,” Thompson said.
Traditionally, the Ferst Center has been funded through state funding, revenue from performances, and fundraising. In light of the decreasing state budget, Thompson says that a main priority for the Ferst Center will be making sure that all the performances can pay for themselves and that further efforts to increase attendance, both from within and outside of the campus community, are undertaken.
“The Ferst Center cannot and should not be just another presenter in a vast array of presenters around the country. We need to brand our programming so that it’s distinctive,” Thompson said.
Another main focus of Thompson’s is getting students more involved in the performing arts.
“When students come to a university, they are pulled in so many different directions. I would just like to expose the arts to them, maybe bring in an outdoor performance or simply ask students for their opinions. But I am heartened by the large number of our students who do come to all of our performances,” Thompson said.