Park City Institute executive director announces he will step down next spring
Board of directors seeking Ioannides’ replacement
Ari Ioannides says it’s time for him to step down as Park City Institute’s executive director.
While the announcement Thursday was a surprise for some, Ioannides described that he has accomplished what he was meant to do for the educational and entertainment nonprofit in the past 2 ½ years.
Ioannides is expected to leave the job in March.
“The intent of having me come in was to stabilize the organization financially, build some community capital and help enhance its brand and name in the community,” he said in an interview. “I think I’ve accomplished all of those things, so it’s time for them to take some time and do a search to find a really good candidate.”
Coinciding with Ioannides’ announcement, the Park City Institute board of directors will begin a nationwide search for a new executive director who will be scheduled to start on March 1.
“The board met the other night and divided up the jobs, and it is looking to get a consulting firm to help with the process,” Ioannides said. “And even though we’re doing a national search, we would love someone from Park City to fill that role.”
Starting Thursday people who are interested in the job can put their hat in the ring for the position through the organizatin’s website, parkcityinstitute.org, Ioannides said.
“We are currently in the process of kicking off our search nationwide to find an exceptional leader that can follow the work that Ari has accomplished,” Jason Owen, a longtime board member, said in a statement. “At the same time, it would be amazing to find a local candidate that understands the uniqueness of Park City and is looking for a special challenge.”
Until the position is filled, Ioannides, who is not involved with the search, will continue to run the Park City Institute.
“After the board decides on a candidate, I plan to stay on as a board member to help with the transition,” he said.
The Park City Institute board asked Ioannides if he would be interested in the executive director position in January of 2020, after the executive director at the time, Teri Orr, expressed her desire to step down.
Orr originally founded the nonprofit as the Park City Performing Arts Foundation and was named its executive director in 1994.
“When the board asked me to do this, the whole idea was to find a new executive director, and as I looked through things, it became apparent that they needed an interim director to kind of reset the organization,” he said.
Ioannides officially took the helm of the nonprofit that cites its mission as enriching the community by providing innovative experiences that entertain, educate and illuminate, in March 2020, a few days before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“That was interesting, because I was out of town on vacation when COVID started happening,” he said. “We were keeping a close eye on the news, and the first thing I did was get on the phone to cancel our fundraiser — the Saints and Sinners Ball.”
At the time the nonprofit had started working on pulling itself out of a $750,000 hole of debt, according to Ioannides.
“We were counting on the funds from Saints and Sinners 2020 to help complete or continue the journey toward solvency, so canceling the event was a hard decision, but it was the right decision,” he said.
Scrubbing the fundraiser was a harbinger of what was to come a few weeks later, according to Ioannides.
“We ended up canceling our whole summer concert season,” he said.
Luckily, Ioannides and his staff had been thinking of presenting some virtual local programming that would target small community groups.
“That was on the backburner, so we pivoted the idea into a larger online series we called Locals Live,” he said. “We were able to use some of the federal relief grant money to support it.”
Locals Live was a weekly program where audiences could stream live performances by local and national artists in the comforts of their homes, according to Ioannides.
“It was a success from an audience standpoint, because more people watched those streams than people who all could fit in the Eccles Center,” he said. “The series really kept us busy.”
Locals Live also taught the Park City Institute staff some technical skills.
“If you watch the series, which are still online, you will notice the sound and lighting gets better with each new installation,” he said.
The staff also learned something new regarding artist contracts through the experience.
“We had recorded a lot of video content from our 20-plus-year history, but we couldn’t use any of them because we didn’t have the rights to do so,” Ioannides said. “So we rewrote contracts when we did Locals Live that would allow the institute unlimited access to the recordings, which was really nice.”
That know-how came in handy when Ioannides began negotiations to partner with Professor of Rock Live, hosted by Adam Reader.
“We didn’t know that was going to land in our lap, but it helped when it came time to start presenting that series,” Ioannides said.
While Ioannides and his staff continued to book and postpone concerts and speaking engagements throughout the pandemic, they paid attention to the desires of their patrons.
“When a new executive director comes in, an organization will get a lot of feedback from donors, and for one reason or another, a lot of our patrons had soured on what the institute was programming,” he said.
Part of what fed the sentiment was a perception that the organization had been unstable for a long time, which Ioannides argues was blown out of proportion.
“On top of that, donors told us they were hungry for a little more diversity,” he said. “There were camps who wanted thoughtful speakers, which we had done really well. Some wanted more diversity in musical style, and some wanted Broadway shows.”
Others wanted the institute to book bigger names to perform at the Eccles, and some patrons wanted to get the summer series back outdoors, Ioannides said.
“Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to accomplish that, but we were able to expand the diversity of our programming,” he said.
Diverse programming comes through Professor of Rock Live and chamber music with the Park City Beethoven Festival, Ioannides said.
This season, Park City Institute is presenting Hub New Music and Canadian Brass, world-renowned chamber groups, comedy shows — Second City and Tape Face — and Jazz at the Lincoln Center, according to Ioannides.
“We still have dance, and we still have speakers,” he said. “So, I think we’ve kept the goal of bringing world-class performers in, but we also broadened the scope.”
Michael Hanahan, the board’s vice chair, praised Ioannides in a statement for making diverse programming a priority.
“Diversity in arts and culture are essential elements of strong communities,” Hanahan said. “Ari’s leadership and commitment to excellence throughout every aspect of the organization, during some of the most challenging times in recent memory, will have a significant impact on our community for decades to come.”
Ioannides’ most recent accomplishment was balancing the nonprofit’s budget.
“After a year I had retired all of our debt, but a line of credit that had a really high interest rate,” he said. “And we retired that this past fiscal year. So now our debt is zero.”
Although the institute’s prepandemic budget would hover around $2 million and $3 million a year, the Park City Institute has money in the bank, and can pay its staff living wages, Ioannides said.
“I know a lot of nonprofits try to keep their overhead down, but if I were a donor I would hate to give to an organization where people weren’t properly compensated,” he said. “So one of the things I did was research what each position makes on a national level, and factored in Park City’s cost of living. So everyone got a raise and are being paid a living wage.”
In addition to a living wage, the staff has access to healthcare and profit sharing.
“The board wanted to put that in place so our employees could build a retirement nest egg,” he said.
Ioannides is also grateful the board gave him latitude to implement his ideas that would help the nonprofit sustain itself.
“When I first started, there were a lot of concerns about whether we could dig ourselves out of the hole of the community’s misperception and become financially viable,” he said. “In fact, my bookkeeper asked me how I was going to do that, and I said it would take a thousand little things, and not any one big thing. I had to also earn their trust. And I think I was able to do that.”
Ioannides has board member and Sundance Institute Managing Director Betsy Wallace’s trust.
“Ari outperformed expectations to revitalize one of the most important performing arts organizations in our community, ensuring that Park City Institute is set up for success over the coming decades,” Wallace said in a statement. “We owe a debt of gratitude to Ari and we are excited for his next chapter as a Board member during this transition.”
Ioannides is looking forward to meeting the Park City Institute’s next executive director.
“It’s a really good time to come in and continue the work Park City Institute has done for the community,” he said.
Debate is a great way for students to learn communication skills.
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