Musician, teacher, architect and traveling executive are just a few words to describe the Arsht Center’s new CEO. Johann Zietsman, 63, was born and raised in South Africa under apartheid but was able to make himself at home wherever the arts offered him a chance to make things better. From his homeland, to Arizona, and Canada, where he turned a traditional cultural complex into a focal point for the city’s growing diversity and youthful sophistication.
Everywhere he’s gone, he has lived up to a reputation for bridging racial, ethnic and cultural divides through the arts while keep a sharp administrative focus. Now Zietsman is bringing his skills to downtown Miami. He’s taking over as president and CEO of the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which announced his appointment earlier this month. Zietsman will replace John Richard, who retired earlier this year after 10 years at the Arsht Center, which has become one of the largest performing arts centers in the hemisphere and a South Florida cultural cornerstone.
After an international search, Arsht leaders hired Zietsman, stating that they expect to see more of what Richard brought to the privately run but publicly subsidized center, which currently has a $40 million yearly budget. Richard was credited with stabilizing the center after it’s rocky start by expanding programming and the diversity of it’s audiences and performers.
Zietsman said his focus at the Arsht will be to make it an unstuffy, inclusive center of city life, and not just for devotees of it’s Florida Grand Opera, Miami City Ballet and New World Symphony mainstays, whose audiences he also hopes to expand.
“I will try really hard to make it more open,” he said. “I’m certainly not interested in running a classical sort of place. That’s not what interests me. It’s supposed to be fun and make your life better. The exclusive palace for the arts is not what people want anymore.”
Zietsman will officially take on the job in February, after Richard’s formal retirement, with a renewable five-year contract. He will be paid a base annual starting salary of $550,000.