Friday evening was the opening night of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Giselle with many opportunities to celebrate. PNB Principal Dancer, Kaori Nakamura was dancing her last opening night and D. David Brown, was attending his last opening night as PNB Executive Director, prior to retirement. The pre-performance dinner was at the Ruin’s and as everyone arrived they were each given a necklace on a pale pink ribbon with a photo of D. David Brown which had been photo-shopped to include a tutu, wings, a magic wand, glitter, jewels and a tiara. Let me explain why later in this blog posting.
The dinner was a sell-out. Ken and I especially enjoyed sitting with Peggy & Peter Horvitz, Patti Payne, Barbara Morgan and Carole McDowell. We talked about Wicked Strong, the Horvitz’ racehorse that will be running in the Belmont Stakes next weekend. We also enjoyed listening to details of Giselle and recognition of the attending artists plus the toasts to David from PNB Board Chair, Aya Hamilton and Artistic Director, Peter Boal. See Aya’s incredible list of David’s statistics below at the end of this posting.
And now about David . . . Fourteen years ago, I was incoming Chairman of the PNB Board slated to take the place of current PNB Chairman of the Board, Dan Heidt, and we were thrilled to hire D. David Brown as our new Executive Director. We had been limping along for the last few years with revolving-door Executive Directors, each of whom that didn’t work out for various reasons. David had led the Boston Ballet as Executive for several years following his own dance career as a principal dancer at Boston Ballet. He was known in the ballet world as being the best administrator. So Dan and I along with other members of the Search Committee including Susan Brotman and Bob Braun were positively giddy when we were successful in hiring David for PNB.
At our request, as soon as humanly possible, David moved to Seattle, leaving behind his wife, Elaine Bauer Brown, and their two dachshunds to pack up their home and follow. David arrived in Seattle with no household goods or an automobile since everything was still in Boston. We had a very small budget for the transition, so I loaned David bedding, a quilt and my bright orange-red Maserati Biturbo convertible for him to use in the interim. It has always been a good story to re-tell that his “company car” at PNB was a Maserati convertible!
But more seriously, what a great pleasure it has been for me to have had the opportunity to work with a staff leader of David’s expertise, patience and finesse. Once David arrived at PNB, it quickly became apparent to me that in my past Board experience, we had never had an Executive Director in his league. Because of David’s background as a dancer himself, he understood the challenges and tensions that accompany the conflicting goals of desire for artistic innovation and excellence and achieving a balanced budget; conflicting goals which have never been an easy task for Artistic and Executive Directors to navigate.
With his dual background, he was always willing to look for new ways to make things work. During the five years while I was board chair, David and I went through some very difficult and financially challenging times together as we were simultaneously fundraising to build McCaw Hall and the new PNB Eastside School, The Francia Russell Center. At the same time we lost one-third of our subscribers during the 18 months when we had to perform in the Seattle Center Arena, (best known as a hockey rink) during the interim between the closing of the old Opera House and the opening of McCaw Hall. But with David’s calm, problem-solving management style, we managed to come through the eye of the hurricane successfully.
And David could not have been more supportive and helpful as we transitioned through the retirement of our revered, long-time Artistic Directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, and the all-encompassing, time-consuming and complex selection process that we designed to choose new Artistic Director, Peter Boal.
Now back to the story about the necklace from earlier in this post. David is a true master of Powerpoint, Through Powerpoint, David was able to transform the PNB Strategic Plan into something that could be visually measured and understood quickly by the Board and Staff in a way that I have not seen done better in any other of the many boards on which I have served over the years. It was all about measuring our performance with understandable red, yellow and green stoplight icons and simple bar and line graphs. David often referred to himself as the Powerpoint Fairy, so the necklaces were in honor of David’s Powerpoint prowess.
I was so pleased that I was invited to toast David backstage after the performance along with Kelly Tweeddale of Seattle Opera and other past board chairs, Peter Horvitz and Carl Behnke. I personally consider David a lifetime friend and look forward to playing a few more rounds of golf than we have managed to fit in the past 14 years. It has been an honor to work with David! I send him big congratulations and wish him Godspeed!
David’s Career Stats:
- – Two Co-Artistic Directors at the end of their directing careers
- – One Artistic Director at the beginning of his
- – 4 Board Chairs and 4 Board Presidents
- – 139 Finance Committee Meetings
- – 126 budget drafts
- – 84 opening nights
- – 18 tours
- – 2 Capital Campaigns in two years: One for McCaw Hall and one for the Francia Russell Center
- – 1 Endowment Campaign
- – The building of 4 full length ballets
- – And 504 Nutcracker performances