With a bold five year plan, Adrienne Arsht and Johann Zietsman, president and CEO of the Arsht Center, reimagine theatergoing for a new generation.
Adrienne Arsht and Johann Zietsman
Next year The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts will host Hamilton, Miss Saigon, David Sedaris—and every fifth and seventh grader in the Miami- Dade County Public Schools system. It’s the latter that really ignites passion in Adrienne Arsht. “If every child in that age range goes to the performing arts center and they’ve had an experience, the arts become a part of almost their DNA,” she says. It’s clear that community outreach is a priority for Arsht and Johann Zietsman, who was named CEO and president earlier this year, but not for the reasons you might think. Here they talk the past, the future and why the show must go on.
Before we get into the future, let’s talk about the past. How has the cultural scene in Miami changed since you opened the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts almost 15 years ago?
AA: We knew that to be a great city, you need a performing arts center, a university, a sports team and an excellent hospital. When the Arsht Center opened, it added the last piece to that puzzle and it made Miami an internationally renowned metropolis.
JZ: I’ve moved around in the performing arts world—from South Africa to New York to Arizona to Canada—and throughout that time the story of Miami that moved through the performing arts world was a story of wonder, a wonder of ‘How did they make that happen?’ The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts shifted the perceptions of this city.
What will the next 10 years at the Arsht Center look like?
JZ: Our strategy for the next five years is going to be 100% about connecting even deeper with Miami residents. So we’re going to break down those barriers by communicating in a different way by providing people with incentives to visit. The Arsht is now ready to say we’re strong, we’re good, we’re internationally recognized. We now need to invite in a wider audience wherever we can.
AA: The Miami-Dade school system is the fourth-largest in the United States, and every single seventh grader enrolled in it visits the performing arts center. They spend a day, and that in and of itself opens the door to them and their families. Oftentimes people will say they’re intimidated by the arts, but if you come as a child it spreads out pretty rapidly through another generation.
Adrienne, you recently opened the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. How do the arts contribute to a more resilient future?
AA: When I started thinking about resilience, one of my first thoughts is the mantra of artists: ‘The show must go on.’ At the Arsht Center we have identified that cultural heritage these days is incredibly fragile; we see people leaving their homes very quickly because of political, economic and ecological instability, and it’s just very hard to preserve a cultural heritage in those circumstances. It must be almost handed down. When somebody sings, music is kept alive. The arts have defined resilience. When you go to the Arsht Center and you see art from all over the world, or listen to a piece of music written by a person hundreds of years ago, it proves that art is part of our core and something that we hold on to through times of uncertainty.
JZ: Imagination and creativity are where the solution comes from. If you need to get out of a tight spot in life or in your career or as a country or as a planet, creativity is going to be a part of the solution. Imagination in the next generations comes from a healthy exposure to creativity and creative activities such as the arts, and we will always be invested in allowing that exposure to happen here.
Anything else you would like to add about the future of the Arsht Center?
JZ: In this world that is so technologically driven and people keeping to their private space more and more, I think the wonder of live performing arts will continue to be that one sanctuary where people can physically gather and enjoy one moment together and no matter who they are, where they’re from. There’s something about that physical gathering that we as a human animal will always need and enjoy. Those opportunities are getting fewer and fewer and people are getting into their digital worlds, yet we remain social animals. We and our partners in this industry will always be that one place where you can also breathe together in a room with a whole lot of people.
Photography by: RIOCAM