Anchorage, Alaska: Anchorage Opera (AO) General Director Reed W. Smith has announced he plans to retire at the end of the 2022-23 Celebrating 60 Season. Hired by the AO Board of Trustees in 2014, Smith is the longest serving CEO in the history of the company. During his nine-year tenure, AO has experienced growth, innovation, and national acclaim. Upon his arrival in 2014, Smith found AO insolvent, but with the help of Ed and Cathy Rasmuson, the Penney Family, and a reinvigorated board, Smith was able to save the company in his first season at the helm, ending the 2014-15 season in the black. He also stopped the practice of spending funds intended for the next season in the current season. Since January 1, 2017, AO has been completely debt-free. Key to the turnaround was re-envisioning AO by focusing on the needs of the community. In 2015-16, Smith launched a new model of three mainstage productions with one serving a particular demographic or societal issue. With a motto to “Enrich. Inspire. Educate. Collaborate. Build Community one note at a time”, AO repertoire is now informed by its social relevance, designed to reach underserved segments of our community, and to demonstrate the diversity of artists and the art form. Communities never exposed to opera are engaged, building future audiences, and conveying a sense of belonging. Core patrons gain appreciation for new opera and its ability to address social issues. Programming socially relevant works also provides opportunities for educational presentations and collaborations with arts and non-arts community partners on impactful projects. The resurrection of educational programming was a high priority to Smith, as opportunities to experience the arts are limited for ASD students. The premiere production of AO2Go in 2015-16, Aklaq & Nayak (An Alaska Native Adaptation of Hansel & Gretel), infuses traditions of opera with Indigenous Alaskan culture. The production is slated to be remounted in 2023 with a filmed version made available for streaming to rural villages across the state.
AO Board of Trustees President Justin Mills commented, “We are sad to see Reed go and fully aware of the large shoes he leaves to fill, but we’re also very excited for him in this next chapter of his life.” Since Smith’s arrival, AO has produced the Alaska premiere of five operas, three of which were 21st century compositions by American composers. In March of 2023, the US premiere of Missing by distinguished First Nations playwright Marie Clements and Juno award-winning composer Brian Current will give voice to the ongoing tragic crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Smith was selected by OPERA America to be part of the Civic Action Group, which provides guidance to other companies wishing to enhance civic practice. AO was one of only seven opera companies represented in that group. In the August 2020, SMU/DataArts paper for the Wallace Foundation, “The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations”, AO was identified as one of ten high-performing organizations for the national study and Smith served as a consultant. Thanks to his expert leadership, tireless efforts, and compassion throughout the COVID crisis AO’s doors remained open, even as its stage had to go dark for a time. A proud member of Anchorage East Rotary and Paul Harris Fellow, Smith will also be missed as a frequent helper at the mobile food pantry.
“I am incredibly grateful for the unwavering support of the Board of Trustees and of our community during my time with Anchorage Opera. Together we have accomplished so much good, on and off the stage, through the power of the extraordinary art form of opera. My passion for the company and for this community will remain even as I depart”, said Smith.
The AO Board of Trustees’ Transition Committee is reviewing a pool of highly qualified candidates from around the globe to fill the position and will be announcing their decision soon.
Anchorage Opera is one of the largest producers of the performing arts in Alaska and the first opera company in North America founded in the circumpolar North in 1962. For additional information contact Judy Berry, Marketing & Development Director