The South Orange Performing Arts Center announced last Tuesday the appointment of Michael Bollinger as its new executive and artistic director. Bollinger, who hails from Missouri, began work in his new position Monday.
Bollinger comes to this position at SOPAC following a stint serving as executive director of Virginia’s Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts since February 2005. He was also president of the Governor’s School for the Arts Foundation Board. Before that, he served as the artistic producing director at the Lyceum Theatre in Arrow Rock, Missouri for 25 years.
“I’ve been blessed,” Bollinger said in a telephone interview. “I haven’t gotten rich doing the arts, and it’s hard to make a career in this field, but it’s what I love to do.”
Bollinger said he is already looking ahead to the performance center’s fifth season, which begins November 6 with a performance by Max Weinberg’s Big Band.
“There are a lot of challenges,” Bollinger said of running SOPAC given the current economic climate. “No doubt it’s going to be hard work. For most grassroots or regional organizations nowadays, it’s been really, really tough.”
Changes Bollinger said he plans to make include having SOPAC’s sixth season selected and announced by the end of next spring, instead of in the fall of each year, and to work with Clearview Cinemas negotiating a once-a-week “art film” event.
Bollinger mentioned that he is happy with SOPAC’s relationship with Seton Hall and hopes to see it expand.
“We had representatives at the involvement fair last Thursday, and they were so impressed with the students who sign up to volunteer,” he said. “And the Arts Council at Seton Hall always makes sure to put on great shows.”
Bollinger also spoke of SOPAC’s former director, Ondine Landa Abramson, whom he is replacing.
“She made it possible for me to hit the ground running with SOPAC,” he said. “It’s helpful to have someone who can tell you how to do everything.”
Bollinger said the hiring process at SOPAC, led by Arts Consulting Group, a national executive search firm, was a lengthy one.
He was flown in from Missouri on July 18 and toured SOPAC and the area for a couple of days.
Bollinger said he got the call offering the position on August 10, and took two weeks before moving to South Orange.
“I had an entire life down there to wrap up you know?” Bollinger said, of his recent home in southeast Virginia.
Although Bollinger’s recent home was in southeast Virginia, he said he is pleasantly surprised with the area.
“New Jersey sometimes has a bad rap, between Snooki, movies about people being buried in concrete, the ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey,’ you know,” Bollinger said. “But I’m sitting here in my office, looking out at the trees and hills. It’s like Missouri. I really think I have the best of both worlds here.”
The proximity to New York City, and the diversity of cultures that brings with it, are two things Bollinger mentioned as particularly exciting to him.
Bollinger said he would approach his first week with SOPAC as a challenge worth fighting for.
“I have a goal, I know what I want the outcome of my time here to be – improvement and growth,” Bollinger said. “The great part is working to get to that outcome. For SOPAC, I think the future is bright.”
Erin Bell can be reached at email@example.com.