Stephen Rountree’s Passion for the Arts

by Cynthia de Castro/AJPress
The Music Center of Los Angeles County is one of America’s three largest performing arts centers and Los Angeles’ premier cultural destination, welcoming over 2 million visitors annually. Centrally located in downtown Los Angeles along Grand Avenue, the Music Center is composed of four venues – Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theater and Mark Taper Forum. But, in total program space, it includes Grand Avenue itself, Disney Hall’s entrance steps, two performance spaces and park area on an upper patio, and even the main plaza with its fountain – as well as outdoor theaters, plazas, and gardens. And the main man in charge of it all is Music Center President Stephen D. Rountree.

A native Angeleño and fourth-generation Californian, Rountree is a graduate of Occidental College in Los Angeles, where he was formerly director of personnel and assistant executive vice president. He received a master’s degree in management from Claremont Graduate School.

Before Music Center, Rountree was with J.Paul Getty Trust for over two decades.  He started there in 1980 as deputy director of the Getty Museum. In 1984, he was appointed director of the Getty Center Building Program, with responsibility for managing all aspects of project development, design, and construction of the Getty Center in Los Angeles. In 1989, Mr. Rountree assumed additional responsibility for planning and management oversight of central administrative and operations functions. He was named Vice President of the Trust in August 1997 and the following year, served as executive vice president and chief operating officer till he joined the Music Center in 2002.

“I’m passionate about music and theater, but my background is actually in leadership and management within the non-profit arts sphere,” said Rountree.

Besides fundraising and managing Music Center’s annual operating budget of $50 million — derived from county funds and private donations — Rountree oversees the day-to-day business of planning, publicizing and putting on Music Center performances.

More than 1,000 performances take place at the four theaters every year. In addition, some 3,000 events are held, from the story telling and World City outdoor concerts in Disney Hall’s garden, to crafts projects to a Friday night dance series on the Plaza and occasional wedding parties.

Education programs, free for the most part, draw big crowds. The Very Special Arts Festival attract some 18,000 students, teachers and caregivers. Pillow Theatre for tots are also drawing big participants and World City’s demonstrations of various international cultures are always full.

“During the 1960s and ‘70s, Downtown was not a place to be,” the native Angeleño admitted. “Now, however, we use all possible venues to bring people Downtown.”

Rountree has said that his goals as president of Music Center include providing more diverse and engaging performances while creating enough momentum to draw an audience from around the world. Considering that the Music Center now draws around 2 million visitors yearly, Rountree seems to have achieved his goals.

The Music Center’s contribution to the city –and to the world-has not gone unnoticed.

“The Music Center is a tremendous cultural and educational asset for all Angeleños, young and old,” said Gary L. Toebben, president and chief executive of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

“The programs held at the Music Center enhance and inspire creativity, which is one of LA’s most significant assets,” Toebben said. “The Center’s expanding series of programs also brings people Downtown to experience the new vibrancy in residential housing, restaurants and retail. We are fortunate to have this world-class venue in LA.”

People with money also recognize Music Center’s significance. For several years now, additional grants coming from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Parsons Foundation, and other companies and individuals have been substantially donated to the Music Center.

As funds have increased, improvements have been done to make the 40-year old complex more modern and attractive, beginning with the major renovation of Mark Taper Forum, the 745-seat theater that holds newer works and is programmed by Center Theatre Group.

The $30 million project includes a major expansion of the back of house area that has been a crowded jumble of dressing rooms with costume and property storage.

The Taper backstage “has been too small, although the artists like performing there because the audience is so accessible,” Rountree said. Dressing rooms will be added on a second level to be reached by new elevators. New restrooms and a lounge will be constructed for the theater in the parking garage below. The theater is a designated historic site, so the exterior will be unchanged, Rountree said. The Taper will reopen in September.

A second phase major improvement being planned is the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

“The building is 44 years old and needs upgrading. There have been many innovations in technical equipment, lights and sound, since it opened,” Rountree said.

Planning for what is expected to be a substantial project will take five to seven years, Rountree said, estimating that the building will be closed for the 2012-13 season.

He said the renovation will cost more than $100 million, which has yet to be raised. The pavilion will retain its historic 1960s look, but the interior will be ‘freshened up,’ and the acoustics and backstage facilities will be updated.”

“Dorothy Chandler’s vision was to create a cultural center that would always remain relevant to the city,” Rountree said. “The Center is a living, breathing artistic entity that has remained a mirror of Los Angeles’ cultural diversity over its 40-year history, and we continue keeping pace with the city, making great strides in providing culturally-rich programs that speak the universal language of creativity.”


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