Behind The Curtains With Terrence Jones: CEO Of Wolf Trap Foundation

Terrence Jones, Wolf Trap

Meet Terrence Jones, the president and CEO of the Wolf Trap Foundation since 1996. During this time at Wolf Trap, Jones has positioned the organization as a premier center for the integration of performing arts, education, technology, and environmental sustainability.

WashingtonExec recently spoke to Jones about the new Face of America project and other Wolf Trap events. Jones told us about his long career at the foundation and gave us insight to some of his favorite performances/performers of all time.

WashingtonExec:  Let’s talk about the Face of America project – where did this idea come from and what is it about?

Terrence Jones: We came up with the idea for Face of America in the late 90’s. As America’s only National Park for the Performing Arts, Wolf Trap is in a unique position to shine a light on other national parks using the performing arts. The first Face of America performance was presented in 2000 as Wolf Trap’s millennial gift to the nation. It was met with such success that we have continued producing Face of America programs through the years. In 2008, PBS aired a 90-minute special as part of its Great Performances series “Dance in America: Wolf Trap’s Face of America,” which is still available in its entirety on their website. We are now in the midst of our seventh installment, titled Face of America: Spirit of South Florida.

In each Face of America program, a park or series of parks is selected and showcased through the lens of the performing arts. The diverse stories of the parks are shared through the rich language of the performing arts, including newly created site-specific dance (performed in the park(s), music representative of the area, and stories from community leaders in the region. These elements are then brought together in a live performance at Wolf Trap that celebrates and salutes the parks. Face of America: Spirit of South Florida will premiere at Wolf Trap on September 8, 2012.

“What excites me is connecting nature and the arts”

WashingtonExec:  What excited you most about this project? What was the single aspect that made you say, “Wow, this is going to be something special?”

Terrence Jones: What excites me is connecting nature and the arts. The arts can influence nature and nature certainly influences artists and how they create. We have these four distinct parks in South Florida—Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park—and I think what excited me about this particular Face of America project is the artistic approach we have taken. Our aim is to give the audience an experience of being there through our dancers and music, and we hope that people will find that interesting and inspiring. In Face of America: Spirit of South Florida we look at preserving freedom, the environment, and preserving American history through performance.  Telling these stories is very exciting for me.

WashingtonExec:  How is the economy affecting Wolf Trap and all of the production that you do?  How are ticket sales?

Terrence Jones: The economy presents a challenge—not just for us, but for the entire concert and performing arts industry. I don’t know of anyone who would say otherwise. Each year is different based on the performances on our schedule. Our highest grossing season was in 2010, with sales down a bit in 2011. I’m pleased that ticket sales to-date for 2012 are strong. As a non-profit arts and education organization, Wolf Trap also relies heavily on the support of donors and patrons who believe in our mission, with just 50% of our income generated through ticket sales.  We are fortunate to have had strong corporate support this year. It is an indication that our partners understand the value of Wolf Trap; both its performances and its education programs and they understand the benefit of the affiliation.

WashingtonExec: Can you name a couple of your all-time favorite plays, artists, musicians, or events?

Terrence Jones: I get that question a lot as you can imagine and I have been at Wolf Trap a long time, it is my sixteenth year now and I’ve been in the business for forty-some years. My first answer is that the performances are like my children, I love them all. However, I can name a few memorable evenings.

The first season we did Riverdance it was such a huge theatrical production. You had a live orchestra on stage with extraordinary dancers and great lighting effects – I have to say when that curtain went up on Riverdance the very first year we presented it – that was pretty exciting. It is very unique…and we are thrilled to have the production return to Wolf Trap this summer.

I also always enjoy Bill Cosby. Bill is just a great guy.  He is as much fun backstage as he is onstage.  He just does a great job. I always marvel at how he can sit down for two hours non-stop, no intermission, sit on a stool or a chair and just talk and make people laugh the whole evening.  That is an amazing talent.

The same is true for Tony Bennett and Marvin Hamlisch; they are great talents, great showman. They are also both members of the Wolf Trap Board of Directors and fully committed to our mission and the belief in the power of the arts to change lives.

Some other favorites include the great jazz trumpeter, Chris Botti, the super pop/rock group, Train, the very powerful Face of America: Hawaii, and of course, one of my all time favorites, Bonnie Raitt. (I can’t wait to see her again this summer.)

WashingtonExec:  What do you love most about your job?

Terrence Jones: It is probably a couple of things.  The first answer to that is “people”– I don’t think you could do this job if you didn’t enjoy people and didn’t like being around people.  I think the other thing is that Wolf Trap is truly unique in that we are able to blend performing arts and nature. It has been special to have the opportunity to be President and CEO at Wolf Trap, the only national park for the performing arts set in a beautiful natural environment. It is a wonderful “green spot” in the middle of a large metropolitan area, Washington, D.C. …and it is just one of the things that I love…even on those warm summer nights. I love being out in nature and watching performing arts and the people as it all comes together. It’s a unique intersection of people, arts and nature.


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