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Top Theater Official Leaving

Hartford Stage's Ireland Moving On

December 16, 2005
By FRANK RIZZO, Courant Staff Writer

Jim Ireland, the energetic and outspoken managing director of Hartford Stage for the past four years, resigned Thursday "to pursue other professional opportunities."

Although colleagues knew that Ireland was being pursued by other arts organizations, his decision to leave took the theater by surprise.

Ireland, 62, also made his feelings known in the past that he was frustrated by the pace of efforts to renovate and create a second stage. Ireland, like other managing directors around the country, also faces a weak season at the box office. Ticket revenue at the theater is down by 5 percent so far for the 2005-06 season compared with last year.

"It's a very challenging time for not-for-profit arts groups in Hartford and across the country," said Michael Wilson, artistic director of the theater for the past eight years. "Hartford Stage is not exempt from those challenges, stresses and anxieties. Jim had brought a lot of energy to our efforts to sustain excellence in the arts and keep our bottom line strong."

Ireland, whose contract was renewed for a second three-year run last year, was hired in 2002 from the Houston Grand Opera, where he had been general manager for more than 22 years. Before that, he was budget director of the National Endowment for the Arts and founder-director of the agency's opera and musical theater program.

"Primarily this was Jim's decision," said Jennifer Smith Turner,the theater's board president. "Jim has been absolutely invaluable to us and brought tremendous organizational skills. It was clear that moving on was the right thing and we accepted that."

Turner said that by early spring, the board will have final recommendations from its theater architectural and engineering consultants and its fundraising committee on the expansion plan for the theater. Wilson said the existing Church Street building will probably be renovated and expanded but won't have a second theater, at least in the first phase of that plan.

Wilson and the staff, including Kim Dobbie, director of finance and administration, will absorb Ireland's duties. Ireland will be available for the rest of the season as a consultant. Turner says a search firm will probably be hired after the first of the year to seek a new managing director.

Ireland, who lives in New Britain, declined to comment on his resignation.

Ireland is the fourth Connecticut executive of a performing or presenting arts organization to announce this year that he or she is leaving. In July, Douglas C. Evans left as executive director of Stamford Center for the Arts. In August, Michael Stotts left as managing director of Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. This week, Alison Harris said she is leaving as executive director of Westport Country Playhouse in the spring.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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