Lagniappe has learned the Mobile Symphony Orchestra has tapped longtime board member Celia Mann Baehr as its next official Chief Executive Officer, and she will assume office on July 1. Baehr replaces Diana Brewer, who served as interim CEO since Gregg Gustafson departed in February 2013.
Brewer was notified March 18 that she would relinquish any further duties as interim CEO, and would immediately return to her previous role as Director of Marketing and Public Relations. Brewer told Lagniappe that Baehr will handle the CEO job on a part-time basis until July.
Gustafson left the position in 2013, only two years after the Minnesota native took the job. It was unclear at that time whether the MSO would cast its net nationally.
“After a series of national searches for a CEO in the recent past did not result in a solid, long-term fit for the Symphony, it seemed appropriate to look at local candidates,” Robert B. McGinley Jr., MSO Board member and attorney, wrote Lagniappe in email. “Additionally, outside consultants from past national searches confirmed that a nation-wide search was not likely to produce desired results.”
According to McGinley, the board approached Baehr with an offer. They felt her “business acumen, financial experience, Certified Financial Planner background, ability to fundraise, and long-term commitment to the MSO” made her “an excellent choice for CEO.”
Baehr’s profile on the website LinkedIn listed her with a Bachelor of Science in geology from the University of Alabama and a Master of Business Administration from the University of South Alabama. It also noted her position on the MSO board and her reception of the 2006 Greater Mobile Art Award for volunteer work.
Both McGinley and Brewer touched on the difficulties that arts organizations currently face with purse strings drawing tighter.
“We rely on corporate support, and with the changes in regulations we’ve seen entities like banks not give like they did before because they have tighter regulations,” Brewer said. “When the economy’s down, people have to mind their money, which makes it difficult for individuals to give.”
“As you can understand, the downturn in the economy has impacted MSO’s fundraising and ticket sales,” McGinley wrote. “Fundraising in this environment is a challenge for nonprofits locally and across the nation. We wish MSO were the exception; it is not. Celia brings a strong skill set in tough economic times.”
As of March 29, the MSO website listed Baehr as Vice Chair and in charge of Board Development. McGinley wrote that in the interim, Baehr would “serve as a non-voting managing board president with MSO.”
When Lagniappe asked Brewer as Public Relations Director why there was no official news release to announce the shift, she deferred to the board. Shortly thereafter, McGinley contacted Lagniappe to offer input.
“The board has not made a public announcement because Celia is currently notifying her existing clients and working to transform from her private Certified Financial Planner firm to the orchestra,” McGinley explained. “In the interim, she will work on completing projects with her investment clients.”
McGinley went on to say the board was “excited” to retain Brewer in her previous capacity as marketing director. He described her interim term as “excellent.”
When asked what she took away from her 13-month stint at the helm, Brewer quickly noted the joy of the patrons and how it energized the staff. A pause brought more.
“One of the things I’ve said to the board over and over is that you have to cast your net wider; we can’t continue to rely on the same people,” Brewer said. “I think that’s really important for any arts organization, that you have to constantly be winning over new supporters. That means everything from what product you offer, to making sure you’re reaching your audience, to making a bigger board and how you raise funds.”