Britt gets new chief

Britt Festivals on Wednesday named former business executive Jim Fredericks its new executive director. Fredericks, who will oversee operations at the Northwest's oldest music festival, called for change without losing what people love about Britt.

Britt board president Ken Wells said at a morning press conference at Britt that Fredericks was selected from a pool of 275 applicants from across the United States to replace Rick Hood, who left the nonprofit music presenter in May as the result of an agreement with the Britt board.

Fredericks has a background in the arts as well as business. He comes to the Rogue Valley from Fort Worth, Texas.

Wells said Fredericks is "that rare talent who incorporates leadership, vision, community spirit and passion for the arts with the highest levels of business and organizational skills."

Fredericks' resume lists senior executive jobs with Nike, Radio Shack and Coors Brewing. But he also served as the chief operating officer of the Van Cliburn Foundation, which sponsors the prestigious Van Cliburn Piano Competition in Texas. In that job he developed a new strategic plan for the nonprofit foundation.

In his remarks to a small crowd, Fredericks stressed community relations, communication and openness to change.

"We need to look at everything," he said.

Britt has been caught between the rising cost of top talent and the effects of the lagging economy, including economizing patrons and suddenly stingy grantors. It had budget shortfalls of about $200,000 in 2007 and $400,000 in 2008. Financial numbers aren't available yet for 2009, but attendance dropped about 12 percent, from 69,000 in 2008 to 61,000 in 2009.

Concertgoers have seen ticket prices skyrocket nationally as the music business has changed with the decline of the recording industry. Combine ongoing structural change with the recession, and performing arts presenters around the nation are struggling.

Fredericks said it will be his job to balance the tastes of the community with Britt's historic arts mission — now 47 years old and counting — and the uncertain demands of tough times. Britt officials have talked about booking shows aimed at specific audiences, like 2009's show by Los Tigres Del Norte, a band popular with Mexican-Americans, and about pop acts that draw a younger demographic. They've also tossed around such ideas as a smaller orchestra, more local acts and special, cheap shows.

But Fredericks said whatever changes come, he's committed to sustaining the experience people value on the Britt hillside on county-owned property that once was the home of pioneer Peter Britt. The festival routinely wins praise for the beauty of its setting, its informality — it still allows concertgoers to bring their own food, including beer and wine — and its natural acoustics.

"The magic that is the Britt experience will not change," he said.

Fredericks left a job at Radio Shack in 2006 to return to school and earn a Master's in Fine Arts degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University and do some writing and teaching. He taught business for a semester at Texas Christian University and published the award-winning suspense novel "Brother" in 2008. He's also a pop pianist who dabbles in classical.

He and his wife had moved to Ashland at the end of last summer before learning about Britt's opening at the top.

"I was looking at writing and consulting and some other things, and this just jumped out," he says. "We knew of the area from my years at Nike (1993 to 1996) and wanted to end up here. Then this came up."

Between Hood's departure and Fredericks' hiring, Angela Warren, Britt's classical season guru, served as interim executive director during a time of belt-tightening. Last year saw a wage freeze at Britt, vacancies that went unfilled and unpaid furloughs. Britt also canceled its educational fall Britt Institute.

Tickets for the 2010 Classical Festival went on sale to Britt members on Jan. 11. The full 2010 season will be announced March 31.

Bill Varble is a retired arts and entertainment reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at

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