A Steady Hand: David Hyslop Guides Dallas Summer Musicals as It Searches for a New Leader

David Hyslop discovered retirement is the perfect time to launch a second career helping cultural institutions navigate important institutional transitions.

He retired from his post at the Minnesota Orchestra as Chief Executive Officer in 2003, capping off a 32 year career serving this nation’s top orchestras including St. Louis Symphony and Oregon Symphony.

In 2004, he began consulting arts organizations across the country. He has conducted executive searches, helped develop strategic plans for arts organizations, served as an executive coach, and created development feasibility studies.

From May 2011 through September 2012, he served as the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s interim President and CEO. In May, he returned to Dallas to become the Dallas Summer Musical’s interim managing director.

Dallas Summer Musicals
David Hyslop DSM Interim Managing Director

"I don’t look at it as an interim role. I look at the decisions that need to be made and make them,” said Hyslop of his temporary role at Dallas Summer Musicals.

He is not applying to be the permanent leader of the organization which will begin its 77th season in December. He has fulfilled eight interim assignments. Some roles have been caretaker roles, but often, he has worked to turn around an arts organization as it faced specific challenges.

Having been in the arts management world for decades, nothing surprises him and he finds his temporary status freeing. “I get to work with great people. It keeps me fresh. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” he said.

Dallas Summer Musicals is one of Dallas’ most established arts organizations and its leadership is legendarily linked. Charles R. Meeker, Jr. saw potential in the series of light operettas performed at the Fair Park Band Shell and from 1944 through 1961, he introduced more contemporary Broadway shows and celebrities, oversaw the organization’s move into the Music Hall at Fair Park, and exponentially grew the reputation and production quality of the organization.

NBC 5 entertainment reporter Bobbie Wygant spoke with Dallas Summer Musicals about the productions coming to Dallas in the months ahead including “Cheers Live On Stage” and “The Bodyguard: The Musical.”

His two assistants, Tom Hughes and Michael A. Jenkins, have been the organization’s only other leaders. All three men maintained deep ties to the Dallas community while building a national reputation for Dallas Summer Musicals.

This institutional background presents a unique challenge for Hyslop. He will have to act as a bridge between the organization’s history and its new leadership by preparing for the organization for its future. He points to his experience as Louisville Orchestra’s interim CEO in 2013 to explain the first steps in that process.

“First, you talk to all of the constituencies in the organization. Let the stakeholders vent, let them tell you what’s working and what isn’t, and finally you have to ask if they think the organization should continue. Of course, they say yes. All of the people I’ve met care deeply about Dallas Summer Musicals and its history,” Hyslop said.

After considering the multitude of perspectives and concerns, Hyslop instills the staff with best management practices while warning them of the worst practices.

Hyslop outlined a series of issues that must be resolved before the process of development a job description begins. Internal and external systems must been addressed. Dallas Summer Musicals needs to decide how it will book its Broadway shows. It could continue to book shows internally as Michael A. Jenkins did or the organization could decide to use a Broadway consultant as the AT&T Performing Arts Center does. Hyslop mentioned board terms need to be restructured and the current staff is continuing it community outreach efforts.

Dallas Summer Musical’s next leader will need a very specific skill set. “You need to have the business skills, thick skin, know the art form inside and out, and be out in the community constantly,” Hyslop explained.

Hyslop admits to having a special fondness for the Music Hall at Fair Park as he walks around the building. At one time, the historic facility was home to the Dallas Opera, Dallas Symphony as well as Dallas Summer Musicals. Fair Park was home to several more museums than it currently houses, but with the development of the Dallas Arts District, Fair Park is no longer Dallas’ cultural epicenter.

Dallas’ city council is currently considering a public-private partnership to manage and redevelop Fair Park and Dallas Summer Musical’s new leader will need to guide the organization in a changing landscape.

In addition to believing deeply in the arts and being detail-oriented, this leader will need to be collaborative as arts leadership changes in Dallas. In recent months, Dallas has welcomed a new director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs and a new executive director of the Dallas Arts District. A new director of the Dallas Museum of Art will begin his work in September.

Hyslop points to another important trend in arts management: leadership tenures are much shorter than a generation ago. He predicts Dallas Summer Musical’s next leader will not remain at the organization as long as its previous leaders, but he or she will still need to be deeply invested in the growth and development of the Dallas arts community.

“We’re all trying to enrich the lives of people with art,” Hyslop said, encouraging arts organizations to work together.

J. Harrison Ghee in the National Tour of Kinky Boots.

Hyslop will continue to serve as Dallas Summer Musicals’ interim managing director for several more months as it begins its 2016-2017 season which includes Broadway Christmas Wonderland, An American in Paris, Let It Be, Kinky Boots, Circus 1903-The Golden Age of Circus, The Bodyguard, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical, Cheers Live On Stage, Stomp, and The Illusionists.

His steady hand is greatly valued in a constantly changing industry and Hyslop is satisfied to discover a fulfilling aspect of his retirement career. “I’m making a positive difference,” he said, acknowledging the importance of a temporary role.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Dallas Summer Musicals’ 2016-2017 season.

Kimberly Richard is a North Texan with a passion for the arts. She’s worked with Theatre Three, Inc. and interned for the English National Opera and Royal Shakespeare Company. She graduated from Austin College and currently lives in Garland with her very pampered cocker spaniel, Tessa.

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