The American Ballet Theater was already looking for a new direction, with Kevin McKenzie, its artistic director for almost three decades, planning to leave in 2022. Now he must also find a new administrative direction: Kara Medoff Barnett, its executive director, announced Monday. that she would retire later this year.
Barnett will leave to lead marketing and social impact strategy at First Republic Bank and develop the recently established First Republic Foundation. She will start in mid-September but will continue to advise the Ballet Theater part-time until the end of the year while its board searches for her successor. She will also be part of two ballet theater advisory groups.
A dancer since the age of 3 and a graduate of Harvard Business School, Barnett joined the Ballet Theater in 2016, having worked for nearly nine years as a senior executive at Lincoln Center.
“She has this ability to access joy, even when you have to make tough decisions,” McKenzie said in an interview. “It’s one thing to be an empathetic or inspiring leader, but it’s another to instill a sense of purpose and joy.”
The pandemic, Barnett said, has been an inflection point for everyone, including herself: her new job will be her first in the world of finance and her first role in a public company.
“I don’t think I could have even considered moving on if ABT was in a different location,” Barnett said, adding that the company was on “a positive trajectory, even after the year of upheaval that we have had “.
When Barnett joined the company, it was still recovering from the economic downturn. Although Covid-19 posed new financial challenges, Barnett said the Ballet Theater has been successful in expanding its donor base. These giveaways, she said, are due in large part to the digital programming of the Ballet Theater – and more recently to outdoor programming like its ABT Tour Across America, which stopped in eight cities this month.
The open-air performances were different from a traditional ballet tour and provided a more relaxed entry point for the audience.
“When was the last time you saw ballet, sitting on a picnic blanket without your shoes on, with kids dancing around you while they ate snow cones?” ” she said. “It’s not the way we usually think of ballet.”
The Ballet Theater will resume rehearsals in mid-September, with more traditional performances at Lincoln Center to follow in October. This season, who the company announced last week, will present a premiere by Jessica Lang and a series of the ballet “Giselle”.