TPAC President and CEO Kathleen O’Brien announces retirement

Kathleen O'Brien, Tennessee Performing Arts Center's President and Chief Executive Officer since 2005, will retire from her leadership post in July 2019, at the end of the nonprofit’s next fiscal year. O’Brien, the first and only woman to lead TPAC in its almost 38-year history, started as Public Affairs Director in 1988 and has led the organization through several, often historic, transitions during her tenure.

Kathleen O’Brien (left) at a TPAC event in January 1989 with Teenie Buchtel (center) and Karen Hodgson.

Kathleen O’Brien, Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s President and Chief Executive Officer since 2005, will retire from her leadership post in July 2019, at the end of the nonprofit’s next fiscal year.

O’Brien, the first and only woman to lead TPAC in its almost 38-year history, started as Public Affairs Director in 1988.

Sharing the news with employees this week, O’Brien expressed her gratitude for the generous support and contributions of TPAC’s Board of Directors, Foundation Board, donors, staff, teachers and community partners over the years while highlighting major steps the organization made during her tenure.

“For close to 30 years, I’ve been truly blessed with an amazing career at Tennessee Performing Arts Center, including 13 years serving as President and CEO. I’m so proud of the great work we’ve accomplished over the years and the fantastic team I’ve assembled to help me,” O’Brien said. “I dearly love this organization, I’ve spent so much of my life helping it to grow. Next year, I will continue our great work and help prepare the next President and CEO to take TPAC to even greater heights.”

“It has been a pleasure to witness Kathleen’s leadership over the past several years. Her steady, compassionate, and decisive hand has kept TPAC’s team headed in the direction of greater and greater successes,” said Jim Schmitz, who takes over as TPAC Board Chair on July 1. “She has prepared the organization and team well for a very bright future. When she steps out of her office the final time, she will be sorely missed, but TPAC will be expertly prepared to continue to soar.”

TPAC’s Board of Directors will begin a national search to fill the President and Chief Executive Office position with the goal of finding a replacement by early 2019 to ensure a smooth transition before O’Brien’s last day on July 1, 2019.

That new leader will inherit an organization that has seen many changes over that last 13 years, including:

  • TPAC’s transition to become an independent Broadway presenter, allowing it greater control over its most popular programming and increasing revenues TPAC used to support a variety of genres and programs for underserved audiences;
  • A separation from Ticketmaster in favor of bringing ticketing in-house to have more direct contact with patrons and donors, build stronger relationships and control ticketing fees;
  • Expansive growth in services provided for students and teachers, adding two signature arts education programs, including Disney Musicals in Schools, for which TPAC piloted the national program, and The Spotlight Awards, a collaboration with Lipscomb University to nurture the musical theatre talents of high school students in Tennessee; and
  • Historic steps in TPAC’s business model to launch a national tour with Dolly Parton (“9 to 5”) in 2010, presenting for the first time a locally-produced Broadway show (Studio Tenn’s “Evita”) starring Eden Espinosa and Anthony Crivello in 2016 and co-producing the world premiere of “Part of the Plan,” a new, original musical on its Broadway at TPAC Series in 2017.

“I’m incredibly proud of what we have been able to accomplish in my time with TPAC, balancing our non-profit mission with a financially sustainable business model,” O’Brien said. “As I prepare to begin my own Act Two, I’m confident TPAC will continue its own progression as a leader in the arts making a relevant and lasting impact on the people of Middle Tennessee and the state.”

“One of my proudest moments as TPAC Board Chair was when I named Kathleen as President and CEO,” said Aubrey Harwell, who served as chair from 2003 to 2006. “When we made the announcement, the excitement from employees was a testament to their respect and affection for her. Since, Kathleen has proven to be an outstanding leader, putting her heart and soul into every aspect of the organization. All of us who care about TPAC, the arts and education in Middle Tennessee appreciate the phenomenal job she has done.”

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