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The artistic director of a Watertown theater will in February become the next director of the Mass Cultural Council, after a unanimous vote Friday by the council's governing body.
Michael Bobbitt, a director, choreographer and playwright who came to the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown in 2019 after 12 years serving as artistic director at Maryland's Adventure Theatre-MTC, will succeed longtime executive director Anita Walker, who retired in June.
Board member Troy Siebels, president and CEO of The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, said that while Bobbitt is relatively new to the Massachusetts theater scene, he has "made a real splash in that time by emerging quickly as a leader."
"I think Michael speaks with passion and backs it up with know-how and is a motivational leader," Siebels said.
Bobbitt, a Cambridge resident, told the board during a virtual meeting that he was born and raised in Washington, D.C. and began his arts career in the first grade when he played Hansel in the third act of a production of "Hansel and Gretel." He went to college on a trumpet and voice scholarship before shifting his focus to theater and dance.
Bobbitt said he believes in "making sure that we hear from everyone, especially those who are most marginalized, in whatever decision we make." He said he was driven to the role by the opportunity to support artists across Massachusetts and make a difference in the broader cultural community, potentially on a national or international level.
"Collaboration is a huge core value of mine, so I don't know what we'll do in the next two years, but I know that we'll be very responsible in how we figure out where we go for the future," Bobbitt said.
He'll become the state's most senior cultural official at a time when many cultural organizations and individual artists are facing financial challenges and struggling to stay viable while hampered by COVID-19 restrictions that preclude many performances, large fundraisers and other gatherings.
The fiscal 2020 budget that Gov. Charlie Baker signed last week funded the cultural council at about $18.2 million, equivalent to last year's funding level.
Board member Ann Murphy asked Bobbitt about how he'll approach working with the Legislature, referring to that as one of the executive director's "trickiest jobs."
"Well, I have a superpower named Bethann Steiner," Bobbitt replied, referring to the council's public affairs director. He said he worked often with state lawmakers in Maryland, including in an effort to establish a loan program to help cash-strapped organizations receive their state funding early.
Nina Fialkow, the council's chair, said Bobbitt was offered a salary of $160,000, and that Walker had most recently earned a salary of $187,000. Fialkow said Bobbitt's pay rate reflected "his experience and what he'll be bringing to the council as the new executive director" as well as the cost of living in Massachusetts.
Deputy director David Slatery has been serving as acting executive director.
In a statement, Slatery described Bobbitt as "the visionary leader we need to guide the sector through this next chapter" as it confronts "massive economic devastation from COVID-19, while simultaneously engaging in challenging and important conversations to understand how to collectively promote equity and ensure access for all."
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