Chief Executive Officer - Society for the Performing Arts, Houston, TX

Chief Executive Officer - Society for the Performing Arts, Houston, TX "Star Dust" Photo by Hagos Rush

Society for the Performing Arts (SPA) was founded in 1966, in conjunction with the opening of Houston’s Jones Hall for the Performing Arts. Since its inception, SPA has offered, season after season, programs rich in dance, music, and theater, presenting nationally and internationally acclaimed artists. Education and community outreach programs have always been cornerstones of the organization; audience engagement programs and culturally relevant performances date back to SPA’s earliest seasons.

As the organization grew in the 1970s and 80s, SPA began featuring performance series, most notably in dance and music. These presentations range from emerging artists to veteran performers and from classical works to the experimental. During this time, SPA began to offer education programs at venues in the community, independently of its mainstage presentations, and numerous education efforts are coordinated with visiting artists and companies.

In the last two decades, SPA has grown to be the largest independent presenter in the Southwest; the organization has sponsored more than 1,000 presentations of the world’s finest performing artists. Each year, SPA typically offers over 35 mainstage performances by more than 25 artists and companies and delivers more than 100 education and community engagement programs that include master classes, professional development workshops, and artist residencies. SPA impacts more than 100,000 participants and audience members each year and remains committed to offering programs that are relevant, accessible, and impactful for the Houston community. More information on SPA programming and activity can be found at


SPA is one of the “Team Seven,” the major performing arts institutions in the city, which includes Houston Symphony Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera, The Alley Theatre, Da Camera, Theatre Under The Stars, and Houston Ballet. Operating on an annual budget of approximately $5 million, SPA offers performance series in dance, music, National Geographic Live (2018-19 will be its first presentation), Family Fun, Broadway(1), and the spoken word with renown speakers. There are 14 fulltime staff, one part-time, and typically six summer interns. There is no accumulated debt and SPA has an endowment of $1.6 million that supports general operating expenses and various programming throughout the year. The SPA Foundation has $6.1 million for the benefit of SPA; all but one of the Foundation Board members sit on the SPA Board.

(1) Although most large Broadway tours in Houston are presented by The Hobby Center.

The primary venues used by SPA are all leased and are proscenium stages:

  • •  Jones Hall, with variable audience capacity of 1869- 2911. The number of presentations ranges between 10 and 15; most are single or double performances. SPA’s offices are located in Jones Hall. 
  • •  Cullen Theater at The Wortham, with audience capacity of up to 1100. The number of presentations ranges between five and ten, generally single performances.
  • •  Zilkha Hall at The Hobby Center, with audience capacity of 500; one presentation annually.
  • •  Miller Outdoor Theatre, with seating for 1750 under the canopy and a sloping lawn that can accommodate 4500. Like many sister organizations, SPA presents one show annually at Miller.


The next CEO will follow June Christensen, who is retiring after a thirty-year tenure at SPA, eleven as its top leader. The successful candidate will inherit a strong organization with a robust cultural footprint in this dynamic city. Among the opportunities and challenges in the next phase of SPA’s life are these:

  • •  Building on its relevance in a community that is one of the most diverse populations in the U.S.
  • •  Strengthening the SPA brand in an increasingly competitive arts environment.
  • •  Increasing all areas of revenue – earned and contributed – with a keen focus on individual donors, subscribers, and repeat ticket buyers.
  • •  Preparing for multiple seasons in an alternative venue/s while Jones Hall is renovated (projected to begin in 2023).
  • •  Ensuring that staff members have the resources needed to productively execute their jobs, including systems, policies, and procedures that offer effective workplace and time management.
  • •  Create a working environment conducive to building transparency, productivity, and loyalty.
  • •  Working closely with Board leadership to engage Board members individually and collectively in a manner that will support SPA’s mission. 


Houston is one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the United States and is the nation’s fourth largest, with a population of over two million; the metro area has a population of over six million. The Bayou City – the nickname comes from its ten winding waterways – has a storied history as a boomtown as well as being a hub of commerce, arts and culture. If it were an independent country, Houston’s economy would be the 30th largest in the world. Other than New York, no U.S. city has more Fortune 500 companies. Nonetheless, cost of living is low when compared with other major metropolitan areas – 9% below the national average. Among the leading visual arts institutions are The Museum of Fine Arts, Contemporary Arts Museum, and the Menil Collection. These and over 500 other arts and cultural organizations have thrived in this extraordinary city. Houston is a restaurant town and its residents eat out more than any other city in the country. It is also one of the youngest cities in the U.S. and its population is international, with over 90 languages spoken.


The CEO will serve in a highly external and visible capacity to promote the best interests of SPA. In so doing, the CEO will articulate SPA’s greater artistic and social value to its community and make that vision and purpose abundantly clear to staff, Board, supporters and the region’s cultural enthusiasts.

This new leader will possess strategic planning and fundraising ability as well as a talent for programming, either through practice or oversight. Further, the next CEO will have a keen ability to connect with people and inspire a team to work towards the common shared goal of making SPA’s impact deeper and richer within the community. Combining a sense of innovative programming, good humor, and warmth, with an ability to create strong and sustainable systems will be a defining characteristic of the right candidate for this position. The next CEO will be deeply motivated to engage in and with the Houston community and to find his or her place as a civic leader. 

Core Responsibilities:

  • •  Set a clear and strategic direction for SPA supported by an identifiable and reasonable road map for success.
  • •  Define the artistic vision and direction of SPA programming from a place of knowledge, confidence, and collaboration.
  • •  Lead the SPA team, effectively inspiring others through a sense of confidence, openness, warmth, and authenticity.
  • •  Adhere to a strategic approach to organizational planning guided by foresight for opportunity.
  • •  Fully participate in fundraising by leading the charge for support as SPA’s most public advocate.
  • •  Establish and constantly nurture a great working relationship with SPA’s Board of Directors.
  • •  Guide the annual organizational budgeting process.
  • •  Deepen SPA’s capacity for providing educational access that is responsive to current community need.
  • •  Charismatically act as SPA’s chief spokesperson.
  • •  Communicate challenges and opportunities to Board and staff with transparency and openness.


The SPA Search Committee is desirous of interviewing a diverse slate of candidates. Although experience as a top organizational leader is preferred, candidates who have not previously held a CEO position may be considered if s/he can demonstrate keen leadership ability. While a background in presenting in a multi-disciplinary context is ideal, candidates of single-disciple organizations are encouraged to apply. The ideal candidate will have the following:

  • •  Substantial artistic and managerial experience in conceiving and presenting or producing live events. The Committee is open to reviewing candidates of varying career tracks in the performing arts, although there is a preference for individuals with a strong programming background and/or multi- disciplinary history.
  • •  Collaborative, transparent, team-oriented approach to leadership.
  • •  Proven track record of high-level participation in fundraising.
  • •  Be a strategic thinker and enable the staff to think in a strategic way and plan for the future.
  • •  Demonstrable experience working with and understanding budgets, finance, and organizational planning in a nonprofit environment.
  • •  Ability to multi-task and respond swiftly and under pressure in a fast-paced environment.
  • •  Great writing and communication skills.
  • •  Talent for mobilizing a team of professional staff and volunteers with an assured and inclusive sense of purpose.
  • •  Excellent facility for communicating opportunities and challenges with positive pragmatism.
  • • The ideal candidate will also possess the following personal characteristics:
  • •  The ability to build esprit de corps.
  • •  Ability to derive deep satisfaction from facilitating the best work of others.
  • •  A boundless sense of humor and an authentic sense of grit.
  • •  A desire to be a resident of and engaged in the Houston community.


The SPA Search Committee is comprised of nine SPA board members committed to reviewing a deep and diverse slate of candidates; females and candidates of color are strongly encouraged to apply. The salary and benefit package for this position will be highly competitive with other nonprofit performing arts organizations of comparable stature and size. SPA hopes to make its decision in the late summer/early fall of 2018 with the successful candidate onsite as soon as possible afterwards. 

Interested candidates are invited to send a résumé, cover letter, and at least three professional references (name, work relationship, email, phone). All materials must be in Word or PDF format with the applicant’s name included as part of the document file name. Please send complete packet of application materials to the consulting firm retained to facilitate this important search:

Management Consultants for the Arts, Inc.
Attn: David Mallette or Louise Kane

Email only: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Subject Line: SPA CEO Search

Last modified on Thursday, 31 May 2018 22:04