Luke Awtry ©️ Seven Days
On Monday, the Flynn
announced the hiring of Jay Wahl as its new executive director. Wahl was previously the producing artistic director at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
in Philadelphia. He will replace interim executive director Charlie Smith, who has led the Flynn since January 31, 2020. Wahl will officially take over as the head of the nonprofit Burlington performing arts center on January 1.
"We're delighted," Flynn board chair Staige Davis said in a phone call.
The Flynn has been without a permanent executive director since Anna Marie Gewirtz stepped down from the position in January
after an 18-month tenure. Smith was brought on while the board conducted a nationwide search to fill the role.
Davis said the Flynn fielded more than 100 applicants for the position, many of whom had previous executive director experience. Wahl has never been an ED, but Davis said his other qualities made him the first choice of both the Flynn staff and its board.
"He's a little different from some of the other candidates we had," Davis explained. "But we felt that his experience and his creativity were far and above the rest of the candidates."
Wahl spent 11 years at the Kimmel Center, producing a wide range of performances. A particular focus was commissioning and facilitating works in public spaces. According to a Flynn press release announcing his hiring, Wahl used "unconventional platforms as a means of challenging the hierarchies, assumptions, and biases of traditional arts organizations."
From 2011 to 2018, he was also artistic director of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, a biennial event that staged performances in neighborhoods across the city.
Wahl steps in as executive director at an uncertain time for the Flynn and other performing arts organizations in Vermont.
In March, the Flynn canceled the remainder of its 2020 season due to the pandemic. A week later it laid off or furloughed 12 employees
. The cancellation of the annual Burlington Discover Jazz Festival followed in April
; it was replaced by a virtual festival.
The Flynn managed a smattering of live, outdoor performances in the late summer and fall, including its Hurly Burly pop-up concert series
. But the Flynn Main Stage and Flynn Space theaters have remained dark for nine months. When the curtains will rise again is anyone's guess.
"We're excited to have performances again at Flynn, but when that's gonna be, I don't know," Davis said. "Our hope is that the jazz festival is gonna work in June or July, but who knows?
"But we thought we needed to have leadership during the time that we're preparing to be the Flynn again," he continued.
“I am so honored to join the team at the Flynn, an amazing group of big-hearted, courageous people," Wahl said in the press release. "They strive to ensure the arts provide opportunities for each of us to discover what we can achieve by sharing our stories, learning creative skills, and imagining the future.”