Ralph Remington, a theater professional and former arts administrator with both Actors’ Equity Association and National Endowment for the Arts, has been hired by the City of Tempe as its Arts and Culture Deputy Director.
It’s a new position created within Tempe’s Community Services Department to further implement its 2015 Arts and Culture Plan. The plan addresses goals and action steps in six areas, including governance of the arts – for which creating and filling the new position was a key goal.
Remington, who started on June 1, is charged with spearheading improvements in several areas, including arts programming, throughout the city and at Tempe Center for the Arts, a cultural hub that opened in September 2007.
Tempe Center for the Arts, which is part of a 17-acre park adjacent to Tempe Town Lake, is home to two theaters (one seats 200, the other 600) and a 3,500-square-foot gallery. Local companies performing at Tempe Center for the Arts include Childsplay, CONDER/dance, and Stray Cat Theatre.
But that’s just part of his expansive to-do list, which also includes working with artists and arts organizations, increasing diversity and inclusion, improving governance, and increasing sustainable funding. The specifics are spelled out in the 2015 Arts and Culture Plan, which anyone eager to explore the fine print can read online.
Remington is used to juggling multiple roles and responsibilities, after serving in several different types of arts-related positions.
Most recently, Remington was Western regional director and assistant executive director for Actors’ Equity Association, a labor union comprising theater professionals, where he oversaw operations in 14 states. Before that, he was director for theater and musical theater at the National Endowment for the Arts, where he handled grant-making and community partnerships.
But his first love, discovered during third grade while playing the Cowardly Lion in a school play in his hometown of Philadelphia, is theater. Remington holds a BFA in theater from Howard University in Washington, D.C., founded the Minneapolis-based Pillsbury House Theatre, and has written or directed dozens of plays.
“Theater saved my life,” Remington says.
“In high school, I felt very alienated,” he says. “I grew up in a lower-to-middle-class African American neighborhood. I saw a lot of my friends dying and a lot of despair. I didn’t know where I fit in.”
Then theater entered the picture.
Remington did a theater workshop and loved it – so his dad, a painter and graphic illustrator who worked in corporate and community settings, suggested he apply to Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. While there, he focused on theater and dance.
And he learned there was more to the arts than performing. “It gave me the excitement to see arts in a different way,” Remington says. He discovered its role in fostering a positive outlook and conflict resolution, discovering the role arts can play in tackling societal issues such as racism and homophobia.
Today, he’s all about integrating arts into daily life.
“Arts can be integrated so it’s part of people’s lives, instead of having to pay a lot of money to go see it somewhere,” Remington says. And it’s up to cities to make it happen. “Cities are what makes the world go round.” He’s speaking from experience here, after serving as a City Council member in Minneapolis from 2006 to 2009.
Remington is especially pleased to be working in the Southwest, as opposed to the East Coast. “There’s a lot of freedom out here and it’s not as cost-prohibitive.” He has high praise for Tempe as a progressive college town that embraces intellectualism, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation. And he’s eager to partner with ASU and other key community players.
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He’ll need to tackle some concrete tasks early on in Tempe, including hiring key staff in areas such as facilities management and arts education. But Remington says job one is getting to know the community.
“I’ll be doing a lot of listening,” Remington says. “I want to know what people would like to see in their local arts and culture.”
Correction: This post has been edited from its original version to note that Remington attended Howard University, not Brown.