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Summer Festival director leaving

Evy Warshawski taking a post with Napa Valley Opera House


News Staff Reporter

When California’s fabled Napa Valley beckoned, Evy Warshawski couldn’t resist. The executive director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival has resigned from the job she’s held here for the past five years to become executive director of the newly restored 1889 Napa Valley Opera House in Napa, Calif.

Warshawski has been key in putting Ann Arbor’s once-financially shaky festival in the black, said Ingrid Sheldon, Summer Festival board president and former Ann Arbor mayor. She will be missed, but she has helped forge a strong organization that will continue to thrive, festival supporters say.

Warshawski has a reputation for picking diverse, imaginative acts for the festival. This year’s lineup ranges from musician David Byrne and comedian Lily Tomlin to the Comedy and Pet Theater.

The mix has done well at the box office: The festival should meet its $1.3 million budget this year with $19,000 left for its rainy day fund, Sheldon said Wednesday.

Warshawski’s last official day is Aug. 16. The festival board of trustees plans to hire a consultant to recruit a successor, who could be on board this fall. But first the board will complete a strategic plan for the organization. With help from another consultant, the board wants community input on “what people like about the festival and what can be improved, and what new directions the festival might take,” said Sheldon. The plan is to conduct focus groups


Evy Warshawski: Has a reputation for picking diverse, imaginative acts for the festival. She'll stay on board to oversee this year's festival June 11 -July 4.


during the festival, which runs June 11 through July 4.

Warshawski says she was seduced by more than the Napa Valley's wines, scenic beauty and winters when the mercury rarely dips much below 60 degrees: The historic opera house, a 500 seat theater where she plans to book acts like those she's favored in Ann Arbor, is part of a budding cultural scene in Napa. "I thought, 'Maybe I can have a part in putting that venue on the map,'" she said. She said she also looks forward to reconnecting with people and places in California, where she lived and studied earlier in her career.

Sheldon said Warshawski assembled a strong staff while here.

"I will miss her incredibly," said Heidi Grix, develpment manager for the summer festival. "She just makes every day a whole lot of fun."

Grix said she expects the festival's network of donors will remain committed. "That commitment goes deeper than Evy. ... There is a lot of very, very solid feeling for the festival in the community," Grix said.

Warshawski said she leaves feeling saddened by recent severe cuts in state arts funding. The summer festival received no funding this year from the Michigan Council for the Arts. The $23,000 the festival received the year before represented a small portion of the budget.

Still, Warshawski said she's pleased that the festival for the first time this year has lined up seasonlong sponsors for the popular free Top of the Park events next to the Power Center. These sponsors, Bank One, Pfizer and O & W Inc., will help meet the costs.

The recent state arts cuts - and more being discussed now in Lansing - make recruiting new directors of arts organizations to Michigan tougher, said Marsha Chamberlin, Ann Arbor Art Center president and CEO.

"It will be harder than all-get-out to attract anybody to positions right now." she said. Community donors have been "incredibly supportive," she said, but an organization in a state that can't lend support to the arts may lose out to one in a more prospering state.

Sheldon has a more optimistic view. "The arts community is so vibrant in Ann Arbor, we would hope that that will help (with recruitment)," she said, pointing to the generous corporate support the festival has received.

Sheldon invites people who want to have input on future directions for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival to contact her at