A few months after an inconspicuous note tucked in the season announcement that Bonnie Brooks would be curating its presenting series, the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago released a statement last week that Brooks has now been named Presenting Series Director, effective August 1. The difference in positions includes the elimination of the Dance Center’s Executive Director position, a role occupied by Phil Reynolds for seventeen years.
Running the presenting series is familiar to Bonnie Brooks, having served as Dance Department Chair and Series co-curator from 1999 to 2011 following the stepping down of Founder Shirley Mordine. During that time, Brooks worked closely with Reynolds and The Dance Center, bringing loads of experience to her post that includes eight years as President and Executive Director of Dance/USA and decades of presenting experience across national and international stages.
In an interview with Brooks, she strongly emphasized that every effort was made to preserve the Executive Director position, however deep budget cuts from upper administration made it impossible. The continuation of the presenting series has remained a top priority in the department, accomplished through a two-pronged approach that served the bottom line through streamlining staff, in addition to re-vamping the series to include increased interaction between the department, the Presenting Series, and the college in general. Brooks insisted that increased collaboration between the presenting series and the academic program were part a strategic plan to “better align the educational mission of the college with all of its different branches of activity and programming. By moving the presenting series into the hands of a tenured faculty member, they are moving in that direction… We would have done those things either way,” said Brooks. Onye Ozuzu, the newly appointed Interim Dean of Fine and Performing Arts confirmed as much before Reynolds’ position was dissolved. Ozuzu indicated that increased collaboration between the dance department, presenting series, and community at large were in the works when we spoke late last spring.
“The effort to preserve this position was very great… There’s an enormous amount of sadness about this, and a great sense of loss,” said Brooks. That the college has a tenured faculty member with the chops to do the job is more than fortuitous, but it became clear that the college was going to eliminate the E.D. position regardless of Brooks’ credentials or her willingness to take on responsibility for the Presenting Series. Brooks was beginning to prepare for a life outside of Columbia, but saw the opportunity as “another chance to say yes to dance.”
Despite a new laundry list of responsibilities, Brooks has opted to remain active in the academic program and continue teaching, though she was not necessarily required to do so. She names fundraising as the biggest challenge in her new position, in large part because it was one of Phil Reynolds’ greatest talents, and because she’s been “out of the game” for several years. Margi Cole will step in as the Watson to her Sherlock, with Cole as her “number two” in addition to long time staff members Mary Carpenter Rechner (Public Programs Coordinator), Kevin Rechner (Technical Director), and Dan DeLuciano (Operations Coordinator). Brooks sees the upcoming season as an experiment as everyone adjusts to the new financial climate, different staffing, new collaborations between the Presenting Series and academic program (now lead by Interim Chair Peter Carpenter), and new responsibilities.
“We’re going to be finding our way for awhile… but there’s a lot of energy around it,” said Brooks. “I would love to leave the program stronger and healthier and more vibrant than I found it, and I would love to see it have a climate of value in the institution and in the community that makes the idea of its disappearance unthinkable.”
Only time will tell if a new configuration will allow the presenting series at the Dance Center to continue at the same calibre, and fulfill Brooks’ vision of indispensability. From this author’s perspective, I can only hope that she accomplishes her goal.