For Paul Winberg, taking up executive post at Grant Park is a homecoming

September 06, 2011

by John Von Rhein, Classical Music Critic, Chicago Tribune

Given the inert economy, nonprofit performing arts organizations looking to fill top leadership positions are honing in ever more zealously on candidates with exceptional track records in marketing and development. Lyric Opera's recent appointment of Anthony Freud of the Houston Grand Opera as its new general director is one example. The Grant Music Festival's appointment of Paul Winberg as its new executive director is another.

Winberg, 49, is coming toChicago from the Eugene (Ore.) Symphony, where his seven years as executive director have brought dramatic growth in audiences and fund-raising, including a 24 percent increase in the subscriber base and a nearly 100 percent spike in single-ticket sales. Winberg also led the creation of a $5 million endowment campaign.

Moreover, last year he secured $50,000 in federal stimulus money through the National Endowment for the Arts, enough to pay the orchestra's 83 professional, part-time musicians for two rehearsals and part of a third that otherwise would have been canceled, according to the orchestra.

"I was able to take an orchestra that was in fairly good shape and really enhance a lot of different things, especially with regard to strengthening the board," Winberg says. "Our reputation for being a really well-run, solid organization transcends Eugene and Oregon. I leave feeling very good about the work I was a part of."

The Minnesota native will assume leadership of the 10-person, year-round Grant Park festival staff in November, filling the position left vacant in February when Winberg's predecessor, Elizabeth Hurley, left to become vice president for development at the Art Institute ofChicago.

Winberg is no stranger to Chicago arts administration. His career in orchestra management actually began here in 1997 when he took up an internship with the Grant Park Music Festival to fulfill the requirements of a graduate-degree program in public administration at theUniversity of Illinois-Chicago.

From 1999 to 2001, he served as orchestra manager and artistic administrator at Grant Park, working alongside former artistic and general director Jim Palermo and then-newly named (as of 2000) principal conductor Carlos Kalmar. Between his previous position at the park and his arrival at the Eugene Symphony in 2004, he did fundraising for the Elgin Symphony Orchestra.

Besides completing the Grant Park triumvirate of Kalmar as artistic director and principal conductor, and Christopher Bell as chorus director, the thing Winberg is looking forward to the most about his new job is the festival's dynamic urban home, Millennium Park.

"The park has been a complete game-changer for the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus," he says, observing that the 2011 season attracted an attendance of more than 340,000 for 32 performances. "The extraordinary music-making that goes on there has become an integral part of the city's celebration of the arts.

"I'm really excited to be coming back to Chicago in this new role and I'm anxious to get started."

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