His task is a mammoth one overseeing the renowned center’s artistic seasons, strategic planning, fundraising, community outreach, educational programming and artist residencies. However, with his decades of experience leading premiere performing arts venues in America and Europe, residents can rest assured that The Wallis is in a pair of very steady and creative hands.
The Wallis has long been a beacon of culture and creativity in Beverly Hills. Established as a foundation in 1994 and officially opening in 2013, the center has gained a reputation for showcasing world-class performances across a range of disciplines, including theater, dance, music, film and more.
Van Leer takes the helm at an exciting time as The Wallis enters its 10th year of artistic programming, leaves behind the austerity of the pandemic and embarks upon an ambitious $55 million fundraising campaign.
When asked what his vision for the center is, van Leer told the Courier “It’s really about releasing the energy of the performing arts center to its full potential and providing as varied a program of events for the public as we possibly can.”
That means more genres of performance, more shows, utilizing more performance spaces in the venue and creating new opportunities for the public to engage with works in progress, he added.
He also seeks to expand The Wallis’ educational partnerships from five schools to 50, develop 1,500 hours annually of arts instruction for emerging artists, and enroll 300 older adult students in the center’s creative aging art program.
In accomplishing these ambitious goals van Leer will be drawing on his extensive leadership experience at the Lincoln Center in New York; the Barbican and the Wigmore in London; the Nederlands Dans Theatre in The Hague; and most recently at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C.
His breadth of experience made a strong impression on the Board of Directors. After carrying out an international search for a CEO, the board has full faith van Leer is the correct person to lead The Wallis into its next evolutionary stage.
“As The Wallis heads into its 10th season, we’ve undergone tremendous artistic growth and achieved notable fiscal and organizational stability, so we believe that Robert, with his visionary leadership, keen creative thinking, and broad worldview, will build upon that solid foundation, further elevating The Wallis as a cultural institution of international renown,” said Board Chair Michael Nemeroff in a written statement.
Board Member David Bohnett echoed this sentiment. Bohnett is also a trustee at the Kennedy Center and had first-hand view of van Leer’s talent when he served as the Kennedy Center’s SVP of Artistic Planning.
“I know that he is a sophisticated, very experienced arts administrator and a perfect fit for The Wallis at this time in its development,” said Bohnett in a written statement. “A true community builder, he is driven by a firm belief in the power of the arts to create change, shape society, and uplift underrepresented voices.”
Van Leer’s passion for the arts is evident in his track record of success. Throughout his career, he has championed the development of new works, nurtured emerging artists, and fostered collaborations with local and international arts organizations.
“Generating new work is definitely an important part of the ecosystem of a healthy arts organization,” he said. “I’ve been very lucky to be part of the creation of more than 200 works and hope to make many more here at The Wallis to share with L.A. audiences.”
While The Wallis is smaller than several of the venues he has worked at previously, van Leer said he was attracted by the close-knit community that can be fostered within the medium-size center. The stunning venue features a marble lobby converted from the 1933 Beverly Hills Post Office and hosts performances in its 500-seat Bram Goldsmith Theater, 150-seat Lovelace Studio Theater and its open-air Promenade Terrace.
Van Leer was also drawn by The Wallis’s strong relationship with the city of Beverly Hills and opportunity to work with artists across Los Angeles.
“Beverly Hills is very culturally rich, but at the same time, performing arts is not currently a big part of that,” he said. “I think we can really add to the cultural richness of the culinary, the wine, the fashion scene and also share that with the broader city of LA.”
In the immediate future, van Leer is excited by The Wallis’s slate of upcoming performances including “Alonzo King LINES Ballet: Deep River” on June 9 and 10, which is a collaboration with talented vocalist Lisa Fischer and Jazz composer Jason Moran.
Van Leer is also greatly looking forward to revealing the first part of The Wallis’s 2023 to 2024 artistic season later in June. More information on all upcoming shows can be found at thewallis.org.