Arts Commons announces Alex Sarian, of New York's Lincoln Center, as new president and CEO

Arts Commons has chosen a new president and CEO after a year-long search. He's Alex Sarian, who has held a variety of leadership roles at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

He's joining the organization as it embarks on biggest changes in its history

Alex Sarian will be the new president and CEO of Calgary's Arts Commons. He's set to start in May. (Arts Commons, CBC)

Arts Commons has chosen a new president and CEO after a year-long search.

Alex Sarian, who has held a variety of leadership roles at New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, will officially take over the role in May 2020, the Calgary organization announced on Monday.

Until then, CFO Colleen Dickson and CDO Greg Epton will continue to act as co-interim CEOs, as they have since the organization's previous president and CEO, Johann Zietsman, left in December 2018 to join the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.

Sarian said he's thrilled to have been chosen to lead the third-largest performing arts centre in Canada and one that's on the verge of new growth.

"It is a job whose responsibility requires caring for an ecosystem of institutions. It's not one institution, it's a collective. Coming from the Lincoln Center in New York, I understand what that means," he said.

"The opportunities, the challenges, the complexities. And, it's not an easy role to occupy but one that has immense power and impact."

Sarian said he plans to reach out to the previous president to ask for his blessings and advice.

Arts Commons is eyeing a massive, multi-phase expansion and renovation that would result in the complete transformation of the central Calgary arts hub. This rendering shows what the facility could look like in the future. (Arts Commons)

Sarian joins Arts Commons as the arts hub is facing some big changes.

Last year, city council approved $22.5 million in funding for the first phase of a major expansion to the complex, which is located just south of Olympic Plaza and is home to the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Theatre Calgary, Alberta Theatre Projects and One Yellow Rabbit.

The first phase of the transformation, which would see three new theatres built, is pegged to cost $240 million, and the city is still seeking additional funding. The second phase would see a significant upgrade and expansion of the 35-year-old, 560,000-square-foot Resident House (the facility's main building).

"A world-class city like Calgary deserves world-class venues and world-class institutions," Sarian said, adding that another challenge will be understanding the evolving philanthropic and arts funding ecosystem in the city.

"How can we keep that promise alive in a city that has continued to evolve? And how do we make sure that we are responsive to those demands? I think to be able to reposition the arts in the lives of all Calgarians and to have a building embody that ethos, there's no greater opportunity than that."

Scott Hutcheson, the chair of Arts Commons' board of directors, said several dozen candidates from six countries applied for the position.

"Arts Commons has a very good reputation, not just in Canada but throughout North America," he said.

Before his time at Lincoln Center, which is home to the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Ballet, Sarian directed the Off-Broadway MCC Theatre, where he worked with Theatre Calgary artistic director Stafford Arima.

He is also a trustee of The New Group, an award winning theatre company, and an advisor for SXSW.

Sarian, who is originally from Toronto, said the move will be a homecoming of sorts as his mom was born in Calgary. He lived in Argentina for 15 years before moving to New York City in 2002 to pursue his career in arts management.

He currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Aliza, a teacher and specialist in arts education, and their two rescue dogs, Olive and Pickle.


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