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Response, 2-4: On Philip Sandstrom
White: The Real Story; Feldman: DTW's Huge Mistake
Editor's Note: In
response to Paul Ben-Itzak's recent report and commentary on Dance Theater Worshop
executive director David White's decision to lay-off longtime theater
operations director Philip Sandstrom, the Dance Insider has received
the following letters, from White and from Dave Feldman.
It would be helpful
if you used informed sources close to DTW. DTW does not have
either redundant or inexperienced artistic directors: Craig Peterson
(eight years at DTW) started in our artist services program and
is currently senior producer, in charge of all local artist production
and commissioning programs and our city-wide Public Imaginations
artist residency program. Cathy Edwards (seven years at DTW, and
previously co-director of Movement Research) joined DTW to run the
National Performance Network (before we spun it off as a separate
entity in 1997) and the Suitcase Fund. She is currently director
of inter/national programs, in charge of our commissioning and production
of non-New York artists, co-directing the New York State DanceForce
(with Danspace Project's Laurie Uprichard), and running our longstanding
international networks in East Central Europe and along the Mekong
River as well as other global projects as they come up. In case
I haven't made myself clear, these are separate, highly demanding
program areas at DTW.
Three or more years
ago, I added the titles of co-artistic directors to Craig and Cathy's
existing jobs and responsibilities in order to more visibly define
how artistic decisions were being -- and still are -- made at DTW.
They are co- artistic-directors with me, and in conjunction with
the DTW program committee, which is made up of other DTW staff members.
DTW has long since dispensed with any notion of solo imperial producing,
as well as the pretense that any one person can be fully knowledgeable
about the volume of artists at work in our community.
As for Phil Sandstrom,
he is an extraordinary design artist and has been an incomparable
partner in technical production at DTW for over 20 years. Not to
mention a very good friend, which I hope he will continue to be.
The idea that some kind of "internal DTW politics" is responsible
for my sole and extremely difficult decision to end the position
of director of theater operations is repugnant and utterly off the
mark. This is raw economics, pure and simple. I have had to face
the dismal reality of opening a new facility into this downturn:
at the moment, in trying to streamline our budget and our different
programs over the near term in the face of generally diminished
giving and funding cuts, we are having to reduce the number of productions,
the length of artist engagements, and the staff engendered by that
large part of DTW's operations. This was a painfully considered
decision, made unavoidable by egregious circumstance. Anyone who
says they aren't having to cut their core internal budgets and key
personnel in this climate doesn't work in our arts community.
Don't worry -- Philip's
is not the only position that's been jeopardized. Other changes
have been made, in this fiscal year and next, in order to be financially
clear-eyed and to protect the future. And fortunately, all of DTW's
staff members are just as valuably creative, experienced and dedicated
to their community, even if not as long-lived and deservedly legendary
as Philip. I don't think any DTW artists have anything to worry
about -- even if less mythic, our technical production staff will
remain as skilled and sensitive as any in this city. And Philip
will be always welcome to join them to cast his particular brand
of light on the artists he works with.
That is the story --
just not the one you reported.
David R. White
Paul Ben-Itzak responds: I am heartened to hear that, according
to David White, my source was in error in attributing Philip Sandstrom's
planned termination to internal DTW politics, and apologize to Mr.
White for the suggestion. I stand by the rest of my report and comments.
Those of us who know
Phil realize that there is no one more responsible for the success
of the extremely high level of production provided by DTW. Having
been a lighting designer and technical director working with Phil
at DTW, I know how committed he is to not only the concept of DTW
but to each individual artist that walks in the door.
It is also my opinion
that this may be the best thing to happen to Phil, getting out from
under DTW and going to another venue that will appreciate his knowledge,
talent, and commitment, and support him for the artist he is.
It seems quite obvious
that David White and the board of DTW are making a huge mistake.
Why have Phil build a new theater and then fire him? Why build a
new theater if you can't afford to run it properly? In this time
of "budget crisis and the continuing economic recession," why didn't
David White and the board look at the entire picture and restructure
prior to building a new theater? Is Phil the only person being fired?
Is David White planning on leaving? What other restructuring of
DTW's internal operations do they have in mind? It seems DTW has
gotten pretty fat in a lot of areas; I hope that they plan on going
on a diet to perhaps get back to the lean cutting-edge dance machine
they once were. I hope whomever they give all the responsibility
that Phil took upon himself is ready for the challenge.
Feldman Designs LLC
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