Damian Woetzel to leave Aspen Institute and Vail Dance Festival to serve as president of Juilliard School | AspenTimes.com

Damian Woetzel to leave Aspen Institute and Vail Dance Festival to serve as president of Juilliard School

Andrew Travers | The Aspen Times
Aspen Institue Arts Program Director Damien Woetzel on a panel discussion at the 2016 Aspen Ideas Festival. Woetzel has been appointed president of the Juilliard School and will leave the Institute after the 2018 Ideas Fest.
Ricardo Savi/Courtesy photo |

Damian Woetzel, director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program and artistic director of Vail Dance Festival, will serve as the seventh president of the Juilliard School beginning July 2018. Juilliard announced the appointment Wednesday.

Woetzel, former principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, will serve as president-designate during the 2017-18 academic year, during which time he will conclude his work as director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program, finishing in June 2018 at the end of the Aspen Ideas Festival. He will continue to serve as artistic director of the annual Vail Dance Festival at least through summer 2018.

He has run the Institute’s arts program since 2011, a period of rapid growth for the arts at the Institute that included the implementation of the Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence Program.

Juilliard’s current and longest-serving president, Joseph W. Polisi, announced in October that he will be stepping down at the end of June 2018.

“Since beginning our search last October, we have had the privilege of getting to know some of the most distinguished leaders in the arts field and beyond,” Juilliard board Chairman Bruce Kovner said in the announcement. “Damian’s vision and optimism are second to none, and we are confident that he will advance Juilliard’s mission for the next generation while building on the foundation of artistic and academic excellence established by his distinguished predecessor, Joseph Polisi.”

Woetzel, who turns 50 next week, retired in 2008 from an illustrious career with New York City Ballet and was celebrated internationally for his performances across a wide range of repertory. In addition to his positions at the Aspen Institute and Vail Dance Festival, Woetzel is also an independent director, choreographer and producer. His many projects include the Kennedy Center’s interdisciplinary “DEMO” series, “Spaces” by Wynton Marsalis for Jazz at Lincoln Center, an arts salute to Stephen Hawking at Lincoln Center for the World Science Festival and the first performance of the White House Dance Series during the Obama administration. From 2009 to 2017, Woetzel served on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, where he helped create the Turnaround Arts Program, which brings arts education to some of the nation’s most challenged school districts. Woetzel holds a master of public administration degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and has been a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School. In 2015 he received the Harvard Arts Medal.

“In so many ways this is a culmination of so many strands of my life to date,” Woetzel said of his leap into academic administration in an interview Thursday morning. “From being a young artist who came to New York to be the best dancer I could, with a dream. That aspect of knowing the students are arriving with a hope that is timeless and continues to this moment, to the work that I did as a professional and understanding the needs in the field. What really appeals to me about this is having music, dance and drama all in the same place as this one giant creative engine creating the future.”

In his role at the Institute, Woetzel championed the idea of being a “citizen artist,” promoting the artist’s role in economics, health, education and society at large.

“So many of the things I’ve been doing add up to ‘the arts add something else,’” he said. “The work at the Aspen Institute specifically has capitalized on that energy that I think exists for the uses of culture and the role of the artist in the middle of society. And Julliard is the place that brings all of that together.”

The Institute will begin its search for Woetzel’s successor in the coming months. Its president and CEO Walter Isaacson applauded Woetzel’s work over the last six years “using the arts and culture to reinforce values of justice, fairness and inclusivity.”

“Damian has been an inspiration to all he encountered through the considerable work of his program – exchanging ideas and developing fora that strengthened the reciprocal relationship between the arts and society,” Isaacson said Wednesday. “Juilliard is incredibly fortunate to have selected him as its new leader.”

Though he’s set to exit his role with the Vail Dance Festival through its 30th season next summer, Woetzel and the Vail Valley Foundation are exploring ways he might stay on there in some capacity. It being a summer program, Woetzel said he is hopeful he can maintain a presence with the festival.

“As always, Damian has the best interests of the Festival front of mind,” the Vail Valley Foundation said in a statement Wednesday evening, “and although his new position with Juilliard changes the landscape of how he and the Festival have worked together, they will evaluate all options to ensure the best solution for all parties and a continued, bright future for the Vail Dance Festival.”

The appointment marks the second high-profile Juilliard hiring from Aspen this spring. In March, the school tapped Aspen Music Festival and School Vice President for Development Alex Brose as the first executive director and CEO of the new Tianjin Juilliard School in China.

Woetel noted that when he was a student at the School of the American Ballet, it shared facilities with Juilliard, making this move something of a homecoming.

“It was how and where I arrived as an artist, essentially, so there’s something about this that feels so warm. … There’s a lot of home in it.”