Battle of Afton, one of the few black women to lead an American opera company, resigns from the Fort Worth Opera amid tensions with her role. His last day will be November 23.

She will be the second consecutive executive director of Fort Worth Opera to step down after three seasons or less. She held the titles of general and artistic director.

A self-described activist artist, Battle has previously expressed frustration at running the business as a black woman in a conservative state. She told the board she planned to step down in July and decided to stay on until the season opener.

“I did, and now I have to move on to new opportunities that arise and open the door for the next FWO leader to continue the journey,” Battle said in an email to the Dallas Morning News.

Several former board members told The News they left the Fort Worth opera house during Battle’s tenure due to concerns about the direction she was taking the business.

The news has reached several current board members, only one of whom has agreed to speak publicly.

Battle cited accomplishments including diversifying audiences, board, donors, staff and singers.

“We built The People’s Company,” she said in the email. “I set out to be aggressive in my leadership and effect change and I think I succeeded in doing that.”

Acting Board Chairman Hayne Shumate said in a prepared statement that he was “deeply grateful to Afton for his leadership and vision during his time at Fort Worth Opera.”

He added in a phone interview that schedules for the rest of the season will remain the same and that the company will once again stage a full-scale opera at Bass Performance Hall in March 2024. The company is also in talks with potential candidates for leadership.

On his Facebook page, Battle previously shared his frustrations with the company’s management.

“You all know the challenges of being black in this world,” she wrote in a June 30 post, in which she was fundraising for the company. “Magnify that by being a woman leading an arts organization in a conservative city and state.

“Running this business hasn’t been easy, y’all. And [I’m] sure you can guess why.

Asked if those frustrations played a role in his departure, Battle said in an email Monday that every nonprofit leader “faces challenges in a post-endemic world. And he doesn’t It’s no surprise that my challenges are compounded by the fact that I’m a black woman.

The Fort Worth Opera’s production of “Zorro”, starring Cesar Delgado as Zorro, performed at the Rose Marine Theater

Battle came to Fort Worth Opera in 2020. Like its short-lived predecessor Tuomas Hiltunenshe had no experience in running an opera company.

But she had knowledge of the field, having performed as an opera singer up to apprentice level. After moving into arts administration, she served as director of development at the New York Theater Workshop and director of the annual fundraising campaign at the Joffrey Ballet. According to her LinkedIn page, she has moved between several jobs over the past decade, working no more than four years at any of them.

After taking up his post at Fort Worth Opera, Battle pledged to guide the company in increasing its commitment to inclusivity and diversity by “nurturing the talent of singers, composers, librettists and directors of all races, orientations and ethnicities”.

With the company facing financial constraints and the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, it eliminated the Spring Festival format, instead offering mostly small-scale concerts in the region featuring singers and songwriters. blacks and Latinos.

During Battle’s tenure, the company staged only one large-scale opera, The traviata, although in a cut-out version. The current season does not include a single staged production – only a Verdi concert version Aidawith a predominantly black cast.

“The Voice of Activism”

Particularly worrying for some former board members talked about in the months before Battle’s resignation was his decision to add a page on the company’s website support the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.

“We hired her to be chief executive, not the voice of activism,” said Whit Smith, a board member who was on the search committee that hired Battle. He left the company in 2021 and since then has not attended any Fort Worth Opera performances or donated to the company. “And that’s how it went with me.”

Smith and Kris Lindsay, another former board member who served on the search committee, were happy to hire Battle, who was charismatic in interviews.

“She’s female and I thought that would be exciting and beneficial for a company that tried to appeal to all kinds of audiences,” Lindsay said. “We have repeatedly reached out to Hispanic and Black communities, as well as the military. We’ve really made an effort over the years to be an inclusive company and to be relevant.

But Smith and Lindsay were then surprised by what they saw as Battle’s activism. None of the former board members are on social media, where they might have found out, Lindsay said.

The opera is “an artistic organization, not a political organization”, she added. And that’s “trying to reach everyone, not just one group.”

Responding to the news of the resignation, Smith said, “It is important that the Fort Worth Opera move forward and not make this mistake again.

“And I wish Afton the best.”

“I can’t carry the weight of the resistance”

Battle has described herself as an “artivist” or artist activist.

“I don’t think a season should pass, ever,” Battle said previously. KERA News“that we do not intentionally program a work or works of composers, artists and creators who represent the world’s majority.”

She saw the turnover of board members at Fort Worth Opera as a kind of progress.

“I saw it as our garden turned around and bloomed,” Battle said. Opera America, a national service organization, in May. “If people don’t want to come, it doesn’t matter: I invite them to get off at the next stop. I cannot bear the weight of resistance. And newcomers gravitate around us. We’ve had hit after hit – requests from people wanting to be part of the opera revolution of serving your community in the 21st century.

Battle’s departure will follow a series of misfortunes for the company.

Arriving in Fort Worth in 2001 during a turbulent time, CEO Darren Woods righted the ship, uniting board members, donors and employees around a clear mission. It pioneered a spring festival format – with new and often provocative works – which attracted attention from near and far.

But Woods and the board ultimately disagreed over the running of the business, and he was fired in 2017. Since then, the company has struggled with artistic direction and fundraising — challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

“No matter who the general manager is, opera is very expensive to produce, and without important people in the community supporting and championing it, we lose momentum and it’s hard to revive it,” said Joe Illick, music of the Fort Worth Opera. director emeritus, said in an email in the months before Battle’s resignation.

For the next general manager, Illick said, “the board will need to find someone who has a lot of energy, connects well with people from every part of the community, and communicates a passionate love of opera” .

Explore more stories access to the arts.

Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA that expands coverage of local arts, music and culture through the lens of access and equity.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The news and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access journalism.


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