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Arts & Culture

With its once-daunting financial woes now in the past, ATTPAC hires a new director

An aerial shot of the AT&T Performing Arts Center
Carter Rose
/
AT&T Performing Arts Center
The AT&T Performing Arts Center, in the Dallas Arts District

Warren Tranquada, a native Canadian, comes to Dallas from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

Since its ground breaking in 2005, five people have held the title of president and CEO of the $360 million AT&T Performing Arts Center. And now, when ATTPAC and other arts organizations are struggling to recover from the effects of a global pandemic, it is adding a sixth.

His name is Warren Tranquada, who comes to Dallas from Newark, N.J., where for 13 years he has been executive vice president and chief operating officer of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, which operates in the shadow of New York City.

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AT&T Performing Arts Center
Warren Tranquada, the new head of AT&T PAC.

Debbie Storey, ATTPAC’s president and CEO since 2017, announced in 2021 that she would step down as soon as the board found her replacement. Storey guided ATTPAC through the worst of the pandemic and helped facilitate its breakthrough partnership with Broadway Dallas.

For two years, Danny Tobey has been chairman of the board of directors of ATTPAC, which has 59 members. The search for a new director began, Tobey said, “right before COVID hit. It was curtains down. We were in survival mode. Debbie’s was a planned retirement, but then she said, ‘I’m not going to leave in the middle of a crisis, and she stayed and saw us through,” with the search resuming in 2022.

Storey noted Wednesday that, at the moment, the center has no deficit and an annual budget of $20 million, beginning with the start of the next fiscal year on Aug. 1.

“I could not be more excited about the candidate we’ve selected,” Storey said. “Warren has the right background and experience and leadership style. He is a great leader of people.”

Storey called her tenure “the experience of a lifetime. I stepped into the role as interim CEO and expected to be here for six months.” Five years later, she called it “a real labor of love.”

In New Jersey, Tranquada manages a $50 million annual budget. The ATTPAC job will advance his career, since he’s currently one of three top executives, with John Schreiber serving as president and CEO, the job Tranquada will inherit in Dallas. In his interview with The Dallas Morning News, Tranquada, 49, spoke of the need to be inclusive and innovative in what he sees as vast potential for the Arts District and one of the nation’s 10 largest cities. His resume includes having worked as co-founder and partner with a consulting firm in Newark and Toronto and as an executive with Chase bank in New York.

He has a bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has a passion for the arts and, he says, for hockey. He’s a native of Toronto, who loves to compete in triathlons. During his last visit, he made seeing a Stars game a top priority.

“I’ve been playing hockey since I was a kid,” he said. “And my kids play hockey.”

He stops short of promising change the second the puck drops on the ATTPAC job, which begins in July. “Will there be change? Of course, there’ll be change. But the goal is not to change things on day one.”

What he likes about ATTPAC, he said, “is that it’s part of a district that is exciting, that has tremendous assets.” He cites the city’s philanthropic profile and a “tremendous business community,” in particular more than 20 Fortune 500 companies in the nation’s fourth-largest metro area. “It’s an incredible resource to have that level of talent and potential support.” And, of course, he can’t wait to experience a milder winter.

He’s aware that ATTPAC shoulders a past with more than its share of bumps in the road. Two of its previous CEOs held the job so briefly, they were referred to by some staffers as Mark.1 and Mark.2. In 2016, the center faced a daunting debt of $151 million. Through an elaborate calculus, it managed to crawl its way out: ATTPAC itself paid $56 million; its big-bank lenders forgave $45 million; $8 million remained in outstanding pledges; and $27 million was sought via a fund-raising campaign. That left $15 million, which ATTPAC asked the City of Dallas to pay over a decade — and the City Council agreed. But as Storey said, the $15 million was “in exchange for annual services that the center would provide to the city.”

In 2017, the City Council accepted an offer from the Moody Foundation of $22 million, with $12 million going toward the ATTPAC debt and $10 million being used to create the Moody Fund for the Arts. Since its inception, the fund has doled out more than $1 million to Dallas’ small arts groups. In exchange, the city agreed to give City Performance Hall a new name. It is now Moody Performance Hall.

Tranquada concedes that 2022 presents challenges, one of which remains the pandemic.

“We can’t simply assume,” he said, “that audiences will come back because they can. Habits have changed. We need to continue to reinforce the uniqueness and value of live performance. Ticketmaster has a slogan: ‘Live only happens once,’ which I quite like. But audiences have become much more selective about what it is they’re willing to see.”

Tobey said the board was “looking for a transformational leader. Debbie’s tenure was phenomenal in that she brought the center to a balanced budget and the best fiscal condition we’ve ever been in.”

But the opportunity now, he said, “is to grow and transform the center.” Tranquada holds a pedigree of working at “a long-time, established performing arts center, with a national reputation,” Tobey said.

“We see Warren as having the ability to take us to new heights. He has a track record in New Jersey of creative, innovative programming that can bring people to the center, who might not have thought of a performing arts center as being a place for them — or that welcomed them in the past. And that’s what we wanted.”

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct Warren Tranquada's role at New Jersey Performing Arts Center. He's executive vice president and chief operating officer, not CEO.

This story was shared as part of an arts journalism collaboration between KERA and The Dallas Morning News.

KERA arts reporting is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.