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Ruth A. Felt, Founder and President of San Francisco Performances Announces Plans to Retire in 2016



Ruth Felt San Francisco, November 11, 2015—Ruth A. Felt, founder and President of San Francisco Performances—one of the country’s most respected performing arts presenting organizations—has announced that she will retire from the nonprofit she created and has led for 36 years in the fall of 2016. Ms. Felt, who is 76, makes this announcement at a time when San Francisco Performances is at a particularly strong place artistically, administratively and financially and with artists and programming details already in place for two upcoming seasons, according to Patrick McCabe, Chair of the Board of Trustees. Since 1980 San Francisco Performances annually has presented the world’s leading artists in genres and series including vocal music, piano, chamber music, jazz, guitar, contemporary dance, young masters, virtuosi and special events. Hallmarks of the organization, considered a national leader in the field, include presentation of top-name performers in intimate venues including the Herbst Theatre, an award-winning education program, long-standing annual relationships with artists and artists-in-residence and support of in-depth, thematic programming that fosters artists and audiences to explore ideas and ideals behind the creative spirit. A gala benefit honoring Ms. Felt and San Francisco Performances is being planned for September 30, 2016, with details and artists to be announced. A search for a new San Francisco Performances President is underway led by a Board search committee. For more information about San Francisco Performances, visit sfperformances.org.


Ms. Felt and her staff have always made a practice of scheduling artists and programs two or more years in advance and at the announcement of her plan to retire, she makes public some details of upcoming seasons that are already in place. The next two seasons will include the return of soprano Dawn Upshaw in the premiere of a commissioned work by young composer Caroline Shaw; a thematic, multi-concert series curated by pianist Jonathan Biss; the return of the Paul Taylor Dance Company; the Alexander String Quartet with SF Performances Music-Historian-in-Residence Robert Greenberg in their popular annual Saturday morning series in San Francisco and Berkeley and other artists and events to be announced.



Ms. Felt says, “I am proud of San Francisco Performances for its successful growth and development over 36 years—for the hundreds of great artists we have presented and the outstanding arts education programs we have created. I am especially grateful for the support of a dedicated Board and staff and the loyalty and generosity of our subscribers and donors which has resulted today in a financially strong organization, without a deficit and with invested assets equal to twice our operating budget. Leading this organization has and continues to greatly enrich my life, but now it is time for me to retire. I am positive about the strategic leadership transition process which is now underway and confident that the Board will select a vital new President to take San Francisco Performances forward into the future.”



Mr. McCabe adds, “Part of Ruth’s rare vision for this organization has been to structure it from the beginning as a relevant, evolving and enduring part of the Bay Area cultural scene. Thanks to her, San Francisco Performances is extremely well suited to move forward into the future and build upon the deep foundation she, the staff and Board have made under her leadership during the past 36 years.”



Violinist and long-time San Francisco Performances artist and collaborator Jennifer Koh said, “I first met Ruth Felt in January 2003 when she was one of the first artistic directors in the US to present me in recital. San Francisco Performances was also one of the first presenters to support and commission my project Bach and Beyond and was the first to give me carte blanche to create a series of programs to be performed in one season, which led to the creation of Bridge to Beethoven, as part of my artist residency this year. Ruth and San Francisco Performances became a pillar of support before anyone knew my name and her support has been invaluable to me. She opened a door for me to artistically and programmatically take risks and ultimately allowed me artistic freedom. I am, and will always be, grateful to Ruth and SF Performances for taking a chance on me, believing in me, and supporting me. Her support has allowed me to become the person, artist and programmer that I am today. Through her example, I have learned the importance of belief, support and loyalty to artists, and the importance of artistic freedom. And she continues to inspire me because she is a class act!” Ms. Koh has been named Musical America Instrumentalist of the year for 2016.



“There is no arts presenter in the US for whom I have greater admiration and respect than for Ruth Felt,” said Ken Fischer, president of the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan (UMS) in Ann Arbor. “Hundreds of my colleagues throughout the world share these sentiments as evidenced by her having received several of our field's highest honors.  

“Look what she and San Francisco Performances have accomplished over 36 years despite having at the start only her superb taste, generous spirit, unmatched perseverance, captivating personality, and the deep conviction that San Francisco needed an arts presenter of the highest quality…no matter what! And that's exactly what she's accomplished. 

“Along the way she has also provided counsel to countless colleagues and inspiration to generations of emerging arts leaders. Brava, Ruth and San Francisco Performances!”

John E. McGuirk, Performing Arts Program Director for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation said, “San Francisco Performances has been a strong and sustainable organization since its founding in 1979 under the exemplary and visionary leadership of Ruth Felt. Hewlett Foundation has invested nearly $3.3 million over the past 35 years in this stellar organization. We are encouraged that San Francisco Performances is engaged in a thoughtful executive transition process, so that internationally acclaimed artists will continue to be presented, and important programs will continue to serve diverse audiences of the Bay Area.”



About San Francisco Performances at 36



San Francisco Performances began its 36th season in September 2015 in a particularly strong place as it retakes the stage of the Herbst Theatre, its principal venue, after a two-year renovation by the City of San Francisco. Founded by Ruth A. Felt in 1979, for 36 years SF Performances has offered chamber music, piano, contemporary dance, guitar, vocal recitals, and jazz concerts distinguished by an uncommon degree of artist/audience interaction. Over the years, SF Performances has presented more than 120 important debuts and premieres and dozens of newly commissioned works. SF Performances is highly regarded by artists, managers and colleagues worldwide for its artistic vision, creative risk-taking, unique thematic programs and the ongoing relationships it fosters between artists and the public.



In addition to its mainstage programs, SF Performances’ unique multi-year Artists-in-Residence programs sustain an ongoing presence in many communities. The Alexander String Quartet, since 1989 SF Performances’ String Quartet-in-Residence in association with SF State University and the Morrison Chamber Music Center, established innovative chamber music studies for high school students and created an inspiring and ongoing Saturday morning series for adults. Beginning in 1997, successive multi-year resident artists in several genres developed additional programs in the schools and community, which continue and thrive.



In support of its vision, stability and leadership, two major national philanthropic organizations announced multi-year support of SF Performances in 2015, including a four-year grant from The Wallace Foundation to engage and sustain new audiences and a two-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to increase organizational capacity. These grants supplement ongoing multi-year support of a $3 million annual budget from major funders including the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, Grants for the Arts of the City of San Francisco, the National Endowment for the Arts and other prominent Bay Area foundations, corporations and individual donors. Total income from all earned and contributed sources exceeded projections for the 2014–15 season by 17%, a strong measure of organizational stability and community support. Half of SF Performances’ Board and Staff members have been with the organization from eight to 36 years and have worked together in all aspects of management, planning and programming. 



Looking forward, SF Performances will build on its strengths and successes to engage new audiences in new ways that address the Bay Area’s rapidly changing demographics, including co-presentations with other organizations and presentation of younger artists in new formats and alternative venues. The organization will increase its use of technology to maintain its position as a leader in the performing arts field.



About Ruth A. Felt



Ruth A. Felt is the Founder and President of San Francisco Performances, a non-profit organization established in 1979 in response to the need for a stable and innovative presenting company for chamber music, vocal and instrumental recitals, jazz and contemporary dance. The organization’s goals are to present internationally-acclaimed and emerging performing artists; to introduce innovative programs; and to build new and diversified audiences for the arts through education and outreach activities that also strengthen the local performing arts community. San Francisco Performances has grown from presenting 7 programs on its first season in 1980–81 to its current 36th Season of presenting over 160 performances and education outreach programs by some of the world’s most exceptional artists.



Ms. Felt was the Company Administrator for the San Francisco Opera Association from 1971 to 1979. Prior to that time, she served as Assistant Concert Manager for the UCLA Department of Fine Arts Productions for five years, and as an assistant in speechwriting in the Office of Hubert H. Humphrey, Vice President of the United States. A native of Willmar, Minnesota, Ms. Felt received her Bachelor of Arts Degree from UCLA in 1961.



Ms. Felt has served on the Board of Directors of Chamber Music America and the International Society for the Performing Arts. She was a founding Board member for Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS. Currently she serves on the Advisory Boards of the San Francisco Community Music Center and Omni Foundation for the Performing Arts.



In January, 2005, in New York City, Ms. Felt received Chamber Music America’s highest honor: the Richard J. Bogomolny National Service Award and from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters: the William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence. In November, 2005 she received the Silver Spur Award for outstanding civic contribution from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. In January, 2007 she received the NAPAMA Award for Excellence in Presenting the Performing Arts from the North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents.

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