The head of arts and culture in Mesa has announced he’s leaving the city just as the fall arts season swings into gear.
Johann Zietsman, the director of Mesa Arts Center and the city’s Arts and Culture Department, has accepted a job at one of Canada’s three largest arts venues, Calgary’s Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts. He will leave Mesa Dec. 1.
“I never wanted to leave here so quickly, but this opportunity came up, and it’s too important an opportunity to let by,” Zietsman said.
The bow-tied 54-year-old will serve as president and CEO of Epcor, which is planning a four-year, $600 million campaign to redefine Calgary’s arts landscape. Zietsman, an architect by training, will oversee the project.
“It’s going to be the biggest project of its kind Canada has ever done, and one of the biggest we’ve seen here, too. As an architect, the opportunity for me to be involved in a project with that kind of transformational impact on a community is really, professionally, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” he said.
Another reason he chose the job is because Epcor — in addition to hosting more than 1,800 performances and events annually — is home to eight resident performance companies.
“The vibe and makeup of that place is different in that it’s a producing facility. Art gets made there rather than just presented there, and professionally that’s very exciting for me,” Zietsman said.
A search to replace Zietsman will begin in early October, said Steven Wright, a Mesa spokesman. In the meantime, Robert Schultz — assistant director of art and education at MAC — will serve as interim director of the center and the department.
“We have capable staff at the center that’ll be able to maintain operations during the recruitment and search,” Wright said. “The important thing is that we don’t want to rush. We’re looking for someone of the same caliber as Johann, someone who will continue with a lot of the things that he started.”
Zietsman, a native of South Africa, was hired by Mesa in 2007 via a national search process similar to the one that will be used to find his successor. During his tenure, he worked to give arts in Mesa a good name, overseeing MAC, the city’s museums and an effort to rejuvenate downtown’s arts and culture scene.
“Overall, folks seem to have made the gear change from a pretty negative perception of the arts here to a fairly positive one now,” he said. “I’m happy to leave knowing we are in a more positive position in the community’s perception of the role we play, that they feel we’re respecting their tax dollar and using it in a way that they approve of and appreciate.”
But, he said, he’s sorry he won’t be around to see the evolution of downtown’s arts-and-business partnerships or the retooling of the Arizona Museum for Youth as more than a kids’ art museum.
Zietsman previously served as CEO of the International Society of Performing Arts, a nonprofit group of global arts leaders in Rye, N.Y., and director of the KwaZulu Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and The Playhouse Company theater organization in Durban, South Africa.
He announced his departure to arts center employees in a meeting about 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
“I know that he really loved it here, and this is just a great opportunity for him, but it’s hard for all of us who work here because he’s such a visionary and such a wonderful leader for all of us,” said Sarah Moran, communications manager at MAC. “We all love him.”