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'Rising star' to head ASC

June 03, 2009

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    June 03, 2009
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    Opera Carolina News

'Rising star' to head ASC

Scott Provancher, More Information

Age: 32.
Born: Albany, N.Y.
Family: Single.
Hobby: Skydiving.
Education: Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, B.M. 1998.
Now: Vice president, campaign director of the Fine Arts Fund in Cincinnati.
Past positions: Executive director for the Louisville Orchestra in Kentucky and Rockford Symphony Orchestra in Illinois.

A young arts leader from Cincinnati, known for bringing innovative technology to the business of fundraising, was named president of Charlotte's struggling Arts & Science Council on Tuesday.

Praised as a rising star on the national arts scene, Scott Provancher, 32, may be best served in his new assignment by his hobby: He likes to jump out of airplanes.

Provancher moves from Cincinnati's Fine Arts Fund, the nation's oldest and largest arts and culture fundraising group, to Charlotte's ASC, which is reeling from internal layoffs and a spring fund drive that fell millions short.
But Provancher said Tuesday the job was an attractive one – getting to come at a crucial time to a strong organization that he admired from afar.

“I've always looked at the ASC as a model organization,” he said. “Both Charlotte and the ASC are at an important and strategic point for the future. This is a chance to lead an organization with a great history.”
Don Truslow, ASC board chair and a member of the search committee, said the group considered about 200 candidates over the eight-month search. Provancher's name came up repeatedly, he said.

“He is a bright, creative, rising star in the cultural community nationally, and at the same time has a proven track record. He is the right leader at the right time,” he said.

Provancher overcame any doubts about his experience in an interview with the search committee last month in which he appeared remarkably well-versed on the ASC and the issues it faces. “Within about four minutes, any sort of doubt about his age just dissipates,” Truslow said.

“If you look at the positions he's held, they've been building blocks for the career path he's had – challenging opportunities to grow. … This is a terrific platform for him with lots of opportunities for years to come.”

Upstate N.Y. native
Provancher grew up in his native Albany, N.Y., and went to the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester.

He was trained as a classical percussionist but realized in college he was drawn to the administrative side.

His first job was raising money for the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra. In 2000, he was named an orchestra management fellow with the American Symphony Orchestra League, gaining management training assignments at the San Francisco Symphony, Aspen Music Festival and School, and Fort Wayne Philharmonic.

Success in Cincinnati
He took on managing roles with other groups including the Louisville (Ky.) Orchestra and Rockford (Ill.) Symphony Orchestra before taking his position in Cincinnati three years ago.

At the Fine Arts Fund, Provancher presided over an annual campaign that ended in April by raising about $11 million, 8 percent short of its goal. By contrast, the ASC's 2009 campaign brought in $7 million, 37 percent below goal.

In Cincinnati, Provancher led campaigns to expand audiences and participation.

In one project, data was gathered from transactions involving 24 arts organizations in the region. An analysis showed that people who attended one kind of cultural activity were good candidates for others. Incentives and marketing efforts were developed to increase that audience and promote cross-cultural events.

“Part of it was just understanding the cultural consumer,” Provancher said. “People would do more things in their community if it was easier for them or if they knew about it.”

Mary McCullough-Hudson, president and CEO at the Fine Arts Fund, said Provancher brought change by focusing on the future.

“He thinks beyond being a money collector. He asks what we should be,” she said. “He's not risk averse.”

McCullough-Hudson said Provancher applies successful business models to the arts industry. “I tease him, ‘You read business books like most people read dime novels.'”

McCullough-Hudson said one of Provancher's strengths was his ability to focus on both the fiscal and artistic sides. It helped him bond with the arts community as well as corporate sponsors, she said.

“He is thoughtful and has great energy, great ideas. It took him about a nanosecond to become completely engaged in the community,” she said.

“He's terrific. Being a skydiver is about the only sign of not showing good sense I've seen so far.”

Challenge in Charlotte
By choosing Provancher, the ASC returns to having a professional arts manager after taking a different tack with Lee Keesler, who has led the organization since 2004 and is retiring in July.

Keesler took the ASC post after a banking career with the former Wachovia. The two leaders before Keesler – Harriet Sanford and Michael Marsicano – already worked in the arts field when hired.

At the ASC, Provancher will make a base salary of $190,000 annually and be eligible for an incentive bonus of up to $40,000 based on goals set each year by the ASC board. Truslow said the ASC examined 10 similar organizations and found the compensation package to be slightly below the national median.

After starting work July 13, Provancher said he plans to spend time getting to know what's working and what's not. He hopes to develop strategies to promote the value of the ASC, possibly through new technologies and social media.

Another key, he said, will be to find ways to develop ASC support outside of annual workplace drives.

Provancher said one advantage for growing audiences in Charlotte is the development of the uptown cultural campus on South Tryon Street, which will start coming online this fall with new museums and auditoriums. “Getting those facilities opened and supporting the new business models around them is a tremendous opportunity.”

By Mark Washburn
Charlotte Observer Staff Writer Steven Brown and researcher Marion Paynter contributed.