TRAVERSE CITY — Christopher Gruits looked surprisingly at home as he sat in a shadowy Corson Auditorium during the lull between summer camp and high school programs at Interlochen Center for the Arts.
The new executive director of Interlochen Presents is no stranger to either auditoriums or arts programming, having come from Carnegie Hall, where originally he worked as artistic projects manager. At Interlochen, he’ll oversee the year-round performance program that features hundreds of student, faculty and guest presentations.
Gruits said he was lured to Interlochen by its boundless programming opportunities and by its unusual position in the top tier of arts presenters despite its location away from a major population center.
”It’s this really unique place: an entire arts center with eight venues and a radio station,” he said. “It represents a really unique opportunity for programming. It’s cross-disciplinary, so you have this opportunity to work across all these disciplines, you have great resources in the faculty, you have a lot of different venues and you have a broadcast mechanism. It’s a world class environment, and the sky’s the limit to what you can do.”
Gruits grew up in the Detroit suburbs and vacationed at the family’s Higgins Lake cabin in Roscommon County. He has a bachelor’s degree in humanities with a concentration in arts management and a master’s degree in business administration strategy, from Michigan State University and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. He is married to mezzo-soprano Meg Bragle. The couple lives with their son, Brendan, on the Interlochen campus.
Bragle recently made her debut at The BBC Proms, a prestigious summer classical music festival in London.
Expanding the role of classical programming across Interlochen’s educational programs will be a primary focus for Gruits. The arts center was founded on the classical music tradition but has moved away slightly from classical programming in recent years as it has expanded to present a mix in musical genres.
As part of its 2013-14 Performing Arts Series, which begins in September, Gruits created a new Composers in Context Festival that illuminates the connection between older repertoire and new works for choir, band and orchestra. The three-day festival takes place in April.
Gruits began his career as assistant operations manager for the Seattle Symphony and then joined Carnegie Hall — twice — the last time as Carnegie’s first director of e-strategy to communicate with and engage audiences worldwide. He also worked in London for Dilettante Music, an online company that builds new audiences for classical music through social networking.
At Interlochen, he plans to further the use of digital media and broadcast facilities to reach out to a wider audience. He said possibilities include distributing, broadcasting and webcasting more student and guest performances, like the traditional camp season closer, “Les Preludes,” whose Aug. 4 live webcast drew 1,000 viewers.
He also hopes to attract new and infrequent area audiences to the Interlochen campus. Toward that end he created the first “Winterlochen Arts Day,” a celebration of winter and the arts.
The February festival includes an “arts crawl” featuring student and faculty performances, film screenings and visits to the art gallery, along with ice sculptures, tobogganing, hot chocolate and food vendors. The event will culminate in an evening performance by the Hot Club of San Francisco with French vocalist Isabelle Fontaine.
”We wanted to invite audiences to embrace winter and the arts,” said Gruits, who got his first taste of the region’s snow during a winter interview at Interlochen. “I look at winter where we live, and you have to embrace it.”
In a press release announcing the appointment, Interlochen President Jeffrey Kimpton said Gruits brings to the position a track record of innovation and entrepreneurial work in diverse arts and cultural organizations.
”His experience in operations, programming, digital marketing and audience engagement will be important to Interlochen’s regional and national stature in presentations and artistic quality in the future,” Kimpton said.
2013-14 Performing Arts Series
Sept. 8 - Riders In The Sky
Sept. 13 - Vocalist Chris Mann
Oct. 3-4 - Interlochen Arts Academy "Collage"
Oct. 17-19 - Future of Cinema Film Festival
Oct. 28 - Cirque Mechanics
Nov. 1- 2 - Interlochen Arts Academy Theatre Co.: "The Visit
Nov. 7 - L.A. Theatre Works: "The Graduate"
Nov. 9 - Fiddler/violinist Mark O'Connor with the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra
Nov. 21-22, Dec. 6-7 - Interlochen Arts Academy Musical Theatre Co.: "Spring Awakening"
Dec. 12-14 - Interlochen Arts Academy Dance Co. and Orchestra: "The Nutcracker"
Jan. 14 - Jonathan Biss, pianist
Feb. 22 - Winterlochen Arts Day
Feb. 28-March 1 - Interlochen Arts Academy Theatre Co.: "Coriolanus"
March 7-8 - Interlochen Arts Academy Dance Co.: "Discover Dance: Exploring New Works"
April 1 - Motionhouse Dance
April 23-25 - Composers in Context Festival
May 4 - Violinist Jennifer Koh: "Bach and Beyond"
May 9-10 - Interlochen Arts Academy Musical Theatre Co.: "Into the Woods"