Jamie Grant, the charismatic president and CEO of the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, is stepping down after 4½ years at the helm of St. Paul’s flagship arts venue.
A booster of Twin Cities restaurants, nightlife and the Minnesota Wild, he is leaving to take the reins at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, Calif.
“The Coachella Valley/Palm Springs area is a place where I vacation every year and this opportunity was too good to pass up,” said Grant, 59. “You don’t get to plan when these things happen, but I think my kids will want to come visit in the middle of winter.”
Ordway CFO Chris Sagstetter, who has been at the Ordway for 27 years, will serve as interim president and CEO while the board undertakes a national search for a replacement. That process is expected to take six to 12 months, said board chairman Bill Parker.
“We will establish a search committee, select a recruiting firm specializing in the performing arts, and ensure we have a robust, diverse pool of candidates,” Parker said.
Grant leaves the Ordway at a time when Twin Cities arts organizations have been battered by the pandemic and unsettled by the civil unrest following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Nonprofit arts and culture groups rely on income earned at the box office for a significant portion of their budget. The mid-March shutdown of the performing arts sector has meant that they have zero earned income.
The Ordway, which has to postpone Sting’s “The Last Ship,” laid off 90% of it staff as a result. And like other arts outfits, the Ordway expects to post a deficit.
But the Ordway already has announced a season that starts in December with Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.”
“The Ordway is poised for the next great chapter,” Grant said, “and I think this is a great opportunity for new leadership to imagine what will be different about the Ordway after the pandemic and after the death of George Floyd.”
Grant came to the Ordway during a time of stability, after years of competition for the stage among the resident arts organizations that share the facility: the Minnesota Opera, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Schubert Club. Grant arrived a year after the Ordway opened its Tim Carl-designed, 1,100-seat concert hall to complement its 1,900-seat music theater where touring Broadway shows land.
During his tenure, Grant built up the number of “Ordway originals” — Broadway-caliber shows produced by the Ordway with Twin Cities and national talent. He also expanded the concert programming to include the likes of Ringo Starr, Gladys Knight and Alice Cooper. And he was able to snag some buzzy titles such as “Six,” which sold well and drew a younger audience.
Grant’s last day at the Ordway is Aug. 31. “When I was leaving Texas for the Ordway, people made fun of me,” said Grant, who ran the Long Center for the Performing Arts in Austin. “They said, ‘If you’re not going for the weather or for the taxes, what are you going for?’ I reminded them that Minnesota, in virtually every category, is one of the best places in the country to live. It’s true, unless you’re a person of color. That disparity was a surprise to me, but the state, like the country, is still battling that.”
Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390