After a year as Laguna Playhouse’s development director, Elizabeth Pearson, will step down April 30 to take the helm of the Pacific Chorale, one of the top choruses in the nation and the resident choir for the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, among other things.
Long an arts supporter, Pearson, mayor pro tem of Laguna Beach’s City Council, called her decision to accept the new role “bittersweet,” since she loves the Playhouse and did not actively seek out another job. But, unbeknownst to her, a chorale board member who lives in Laguna Beach threw her name in the hat when the 45-year-old nonprofit began their search for a new president and chief executive officer.
“I had to do it,” admitted Pearson, explaining that the new position is a professional advance to a management position from a support role, and openings for top leaders in arts nonprofits are rare.
“We are really thrilled for Elizabeth,” said Karen Wood, executive director of Laguna Playhouse, which now is mounting larger productions after retrenching during the recession.
Wood called Pearson a “font of creativity and energy,” praising her fundraising guidance and initiatives, such as starting the Player’s Club support group, season sponsorships, themed fundraisers and advocating for the Playhouse’s women’s group. Pearson also spearheaded the volunteer program and increased in-kind gifts to the Playhouse, said Wood.
A national search will be conducted for Pearson’s successor, someone who “will have some big, high-heeled shoes to fill,” said Wood. “Every moment of change always presents a positive opportunity,” she said, for both Pearson and the Playhouse.
In moving to the Pacific Chorale, Pearson will head a nonprofit with administrative offices in Santa Ana that lacks its own venue but instead performs and rehearses in space under contract from the Segerstrom Concert Hall. The 140-voice Pacific Chorale and the 24-voice John Alexander Singers tour nationally and internationally. The chorale operates with seven full-time administrators, seven independently contracted artistic staff members, 24 paid core singers and about 130 volunteer professional singers.
While the chorale’s $2.3 million budget is about half that of the Playhouse’s $4.4 million, the singers have cultivated a stronger donor base, with growing contributions that make up nearly two thirds of their revenue and a budget that exceeds their costs.
The Playhouse, by contrast, maintains a larger staff, with 23 full-time members in addition to part time staff and hiring the professionals involved with up to six performances produced in-house each year. The theater has a harder time making ends meet; their $3.4 million in program revenue in 2010 did not cover their costs, according to the most recent figures available on Guidestar, the online nonprofit database.
The chorale, founded in 1968, has built up a good support base, but they now seek greater name recognition and wanted an executive with a strong marketing background such as hers, Pearson said.
“I’m excited,” she said. “It opens up a whole new world for me.” She looks forward to working with the chorale’s Artistic Director John Alexander, also a Laguna Beach resident.
In addition to establishing herself as a marketing consultant, Pearson previously worked as executive director and marketing director of the former South Coast Medical Center Foundation and helped to raise funds as a consultant locally for a number of nonprofits including the Laguna Beach Boys and Girls Club, Laguna Beach Seniors, and the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, among others.
“After an extensive search, we are delighted to have been able to recruit Elizabeth,” said Martin Hubbard, chairman of the Pacific Chorale board, in a statement on Friday. “We believe she will be able to create a greater awareness of our organization and help us attract new audiences who will delight in our classical choral music performances.”
“In my first meeting with Elizabeth a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to discover an energetic, exciting, and charismatic personality with all of the traits of a highly successful leader,” said Alexander in a statement. He called Pearson a “perfect match” for the organization.