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Flash 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.

Paul --

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.

Dear Paul:

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.

Dave Feldman
Feldman Designs LLC

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