Artist with a cause
At Madison Ballet, the changes Jonathan Solari envisions may reach well beyond the stage.
As the new CEO at Madison Ballet, Jonathan Solari, pictured here at the Overture Center, dreams of “eliminating rather than raising the theater curtain” to remove barriers to the performing arts.
Photograph by Shawn Harper
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From the pages of In Business magazine.
Jonathan Solari, the new CEO of Madison Ballet, is a worldly, insightful theater-maker and arts administrator who founded two nonprofit theatre companies in New York City by the time he was 27. Now 33, he aims to bring the house down in Madison, but for reasons we would not suspect.
While in the Big Apple, his New Brooklyn Theatre was celebrated by both The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for pushing the limits and rallying communities around important causes.
Solari’s theatrical and societal impacts already extend beyond the stage. Under his leadership, the group’s performance of an Edward Albee play inside a Brooklyn, New York hospital was credited with saving a bankrupt health system.
In West Virginia, he organized a community theater performance on a floating stage outside the state capital after a chemical spill affected the water supply.
He also partnered with Harvard University to perform “a classic Chekhov” play on a 125-year-old farm targeted for redevelopment in Turkey.
Solari, a self-described nomad who has lived in at least eight U.S. states, has planted his creative roots in Wisconsin, his wife’s home state. As Madison Ballet prepares to launch its forthcoming season, including The Nutcracker in December and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream next spring, Solari talks of eliminating — rather than raising — the theater curtain to promote arts for all.
“I’ve met many business leaders here with backgrounds in dance.” — Jonathan Solari, Madison Ballet
IB: What do you hope to accomplish at Madison Ballet?
Solari: In New York, I focused on accessibility in the arts, and that’s the vision I have for the Madison Ballet. I want to remove all barriers to the arts. We have incredible resources here with Overture and the future Youth Arts Center. It’s critical that they be available to everyone regardless of socio-economic status or geography.
IB: What specifically can Madison Ballet do toward that end?
Solari: For one, we are formalizing a tuition-assistance fund for our ballet school and exploring options so transportation is not a barrier to students taking classes.
IB: What do you want the business community to know?
Solari: That many lifelong skills gained by participation in the arts are easily transferable outside of the arts — accountability, discipline, creative thinking, and collaboration. As a creative collaborator, I’m always seeking ways to bridge the business community and the Madison Ballet. I’ve met many business leaders here whose backgrounds included some form of dance.
IB: Are you a dancer?
Solari: [Laughing] Thankfully not! I’ve directed opera and plays and understand the arts world, but what our dancers do is absolute magic to me.
IB: Ballet is beautiful, but how do you interest new audiences?
Solari: Relevance. The whole medium is at a turning point. We see an artist like Misty Copeland — who has broken through barriers and inspired multiple generations — question who art is for, when, and where.