A viral pandemic and an economic downturn have made for a tight job market, yet Terrence W. Dwyer, former chief executive officer of Southern California’s Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts, has landed a plum position during these challenging times. Last week he was named the new CEO of West Palm Beach’s Kravis Center, taking over for the retiring Judy Mitchell, who has held the post since the center opened almost 30 years ago.
“As you can imagine, it’s a difficult time to be looking for work,” Dwyer said recently by telephone. “People were staying in jobs and organizations were hesitant to fill empty jobs. So when the Kravis opening came up, and it’s pretty much a dream job for me, I was thrilled that the board had the confidence to bring me onboard as the next CEO. Particularly following such an exceptional tenure as Judy Mitchell’s.”
Dwyer was at the helm of the Segerstrom Center from 2006 to 2019, a time of significant growth for that organization’s programs and budget, including the raising of $140 million for that center’s capital campaign during his tenure. Following his departure from the center, he briefly headed the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert, Calif.
Asked about his achievements at the Segerstrom, Dwyer is quick to say, “The Segerstrom Center was very accomplished when I arrived.” He adds, “We continued to enhance the artistic programs and we created and built a very strong community engagement department that really helped to transform the center’s relationship with its community. We were very proud of that.”
Even from thousands of miles away, Dwyer was well aware of the Kravis Center.
“The Kravis Center is one of a small number of very large and prominent performing arts centers in the country. So anyone who has worked at one tends to know a fair amount about the other ones. You share reports and you share information,” he says. “And so the Kravis Center is really one of the exceptional performing arts centers in the country and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was that there was an opening that I could throw my hat in the ring in and see what happens.”
Despite his knowledge of the Kravis and an acquaintance with Mitchell from various industry conferences, Dwyer still did additional research on the center. “You talk to friends that know the organization well, you talk to colleagues in the funding community. You get as much information as you can, but you never really get any of the inside information until you actually get further along in the interview process.”
New Jersey native Dwyer, 64, has two master’s degrees – one in directing from the University of Missouri and the other in theater management from the Yale School of Drama. Prior to his time at the Segerstrom, he served as managing director at three prestigious regional theaters: Circle Repertory Company, La Jolla Playhouse and The Alley Theatre. He and his wife, Amy, a booking rep for classical music artists, have a daughter in graduate school.
The Kravis Center held a national search for its next CEO that Dwyer describes as “very thorough.” After months of communication with the center’s outside search firm, Dwyer was one of several candidates referred on to the Kravis’s search committee. Before being offered the job, he had two interviews with the committee, one by Zoom and the other in person.
Although Dwyer concedes that he has not spent much time in Palm Beach County, he has the impression that it has much in common with California’s Orange County, home to the Segerstrom Center.
“There are similarities. It’s a vibrant and diverse county, as was Orange County,” he says. “but it’s a different mix of ethnicities. You don’t go in and have a magic solution to anything. You have to listen and learn and build relationships and get to know the community where you are – its strengths and its uniqueness.
“You can’t say, ‘If it worked in Orange County, I know it will work in Palm Beach County.’ It’s really important for me and the Kravis Center team to do what they’re already doing. As you build really authentic and meaningful relationships with different kinds of organizations and constituencies and communities throughout Palm Beach County, you listen and you learn what their needs and you develop ways to respond to their needs.”
The Segerstrom was known for having three resident companies attached to it, something the Kravis has not succeeded at, with the notably short-lived hosting of Florida Stage in the early 2010s. Dwyer is wary of trying that again here.
“Having a resident theater company is a great idea, it’s a great thing, but it’s not the right fit for everywhere,” he feels. “It’s the kind of thing we might consider, but what’s most important is sustaining the programs that we are supporting and maybe adding some more over the course of time.
“A large part of my career has been with theater companies. I am sure there will be opportunities to collaborate with theater companies that are either touring around or are producing almost anywhere in the country,” Dwyer says. “I’m a big believer in those kinds of collaborations. We’ll be taking a look at those opportunities as they come along, but again, we’ll always make sure that it’s aligned with the mission of the Kravis Center.”
Of course, all such efforts are initially on hold as the Kravis, like every other arts organization, grapples with the realities of these COVID-crippled times. Commenting on his anticipated reactions to the situation, Dwyer says, “I’m naturally going to continue the efforts that are already happening, which is to manage expenses extremely carefully, to build up resources to sustain the heart and soul of the organization and to prepare the organization for its re-emergence from this pandemic-related hiatus it is in.
“And then we’ll have conversations and plant the seeds of planning for what’s to come after the pandemic. Those conversations will start up in the next year and I think that will be very exciting.”
Is he able to project now when the Kravis Center is likely to reopen its doors and begin with performances again? “It’s probably a little too early to say,” he responds. “Call me at the end of January.”