I am fascinated by how things get done in the arts.

How do great series develop? How do thriving service-based programs grow? How are new works imagined and created and supported?

Kathy Panoff, after 13 years running the Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Virginia, became Director and Associate Dean of the University of Texas at Austin Performing Arts Center (now Texas Performing Arts) in 2009. Since her arrival, Texas Performing Arts has been an extraordinary force in the development of bold and exciting programming, collaboration and vision in the arts in our community.

Our upcoming collaboration with Texas Performing Arts and Conspirare on April 18th was her original concept. The new work our organizations will premiere was commissioned by Texas Performing Arts with the help of the Mellon Foundation.

If you want to go, information and tickets are online here!

I asked Kathy a few questions about this project and about her vision and leadership in the arts. Enjoy!

Kathy Panoff resMatt Hinsley: You made this. I’ll never forget the lunch when you first pitched the idea to Craig Hella Johnson and me. Why us? What led you to this bold and unprecedented collaborative vision?

Kathy Panoff: This particular commission provided the perfect opportunity for Texas Performing Arts to demonstrate our commitment to cultural leadership, one of the three key pillars of our mission-based work on the UT campus and in the community. As the largest arts organization in the region, Texas Performing Arts has an implied responsibility to both steward and elevate our cultural resources, including classical music, so that they may continue to grow, thrive and retain relevance in today’s rapidly changing world. I wanted to do something collaborative since we are known for that kind of programming with our faculty, and ACG and Conspirare seemed ideal partners since I wanted a work for voices and guitars, and since the guitar is essentially embedded in our culture in Austin.

MH: From your perspective, presenting some of the most important performing artists in the world as you do, and commissioning new material of great significance with regularity, what does it mean to have Nico Muhly creating this work for Austin?

KP: Presenting world class performing artists is a critical component of the teaching mission of the College of Fine Arts and The University of Texas at Austin at large. The commission of new work functions as the research and development arm of the various arts disciplines. It really is not unlike other types of research which, through trial, error and discovery, researchers aspire to move a particular area of study and/or research forward. In the arts the creation of new work is one of the most important ways to help advance the art form and ensure relevance in perpetuity.

MH: Tell me about your vision of community engagement in the arts. How does this project, and your broad efforts at Texas Performing Arts, feed that vision?

KP: For me, it goes back to cultural leadership and Texas Performing Arts’ belief that leadership is best demonstrated by example. Competition for the arts and entertainment dollar is incredibly challenging. I believe we can best compete by developing collaborative projects like this, that will, by design, attract a broader range of constituents than doing something on our own. Honestly, I think it’s a great way for all the participants to distinguish themselves. TPA has had great success with this collaborative approach with major projects that involve the elite student ensembles from the Sarah and Ernest Butler School of Music performing alongside professional touring artists, like the centennial performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring with the UT Symphony and the Joffrey Ballet, and projects like How Little You Are.