At the March 11, 2019 meeting of the Playhouse Square Board of Trustees, Board Chair James Ratner announced Art J. Falco’s intention to step down from his current role as CEO effective June 30, 2019 after 28 years of visionary leadership at the helm of the not-for-profit performing arts center. Falco will continue to serve as a Senior Advisor for Special Projects, focusing on real estate initiatives and specifically The Lumen apartment tower.
The organization’s current President and Chief Operating Officer, Gina Vernaci, will become President and CEO effective July 1, 2019.
“Playhouse Square has had incredible success during Art’s tenure, rising to become a leader and role model in the industry. We are fortunate to have as a successor someone who was not only an integral part of creating our strategy, but who is one of the industry’s leaders in her own right,” said the chair of Playhouse Square’s Board of Trustees, James Ratner. “Given her national network and reputation, we are grateful that Gina’s love of Cleveland and belief in Playhouse Square’s mission have kept her here.”
Art has led the growth of Playhouse Square into the nation’s largest performing arts center outside of New York through a unique business model based on real estate management and holdings supporting arts presentations and vice versa. At the same time, Gina has led the creation of a performance and education powerhouse that has the largest Broadway series season ticket holder base in the nation.
As President and Chief Operating Officer of Playhouse Square, Gina is responsible for all operations, including more than 1000 annual performances and supervising a full- and part-time staff of 425 as well as the “RedCoats” volunteer corps of 2000.
Gina became an integral part of the movement to save the theater district after joining the organization in 1984, and as Playhouse Square grew, she assumed responsibility for programming, where she streamlined operations and instituted the Community Engagement & Education Department. Promotions followed swiftly in the ensuing two decades, and as part of Art’s executive team, she was named Vice President of Theatricals, then Senior Vice President of Operations, then Executive Producer; directing the artistic, educational and business aspects of shows, festivals and strategic partnerships in the community.
With a Master’s degree in Urban Studies from Cleveland State University, Vernaci understands what it takes to make a city thrive, and has been part of the leadership vision to make the arts and entertainment a crucial part of Northeast Ohio’s economy. She has led initiatives that have helped to position Playhouse Square as the region’s premier cultural and entertainment destination, including the expansion of Playhouse Square’s KeyBank Broadway Series from 8 to 24 performances for each engagement and growing the season ticket holder base for the series to the largest in the nation. She established Playhouse Square’s role in the Broadway in Akron series and continues to champion programming collaborations with libraries, colleges, resident companies and area non-profit theaters.
Well-respected by local, regional, national and international colleagues, Gina is Road Vice Chair of the Broadway League and is Past President and a member of the Investment Committee for the Independent Presenters Network and the Founder and Past President of The Independent Presenters Concert Network. She led the design of a unified booking agreement for the Broadway industry.
“It is a tremendous honor to lead Playhouse Square as we write the next chapter for this beloved institution. We will continue to build on our solid foundation and our dedicated team members will continue to deliver the dazzling experience our community expects and deserves,” said Gina. “It is especially gratifying to know that Art continues to be on this journey with us as we continue to expand our national profile.”
Among the many accomplishments achieved under Art’s tenure are: the growth of Playhouse Square from five performance spaces to 11 with an average annual attendance of more than one million guests; the establishment of Playhouse Square Real Estate Services, making Playhouse Square the first performing arts center with a real estate division; the completion of the restoration of Playhouse Square’s historic spaces; the creation of downtown Cleveland’s first Business Improvement District, later adopted city-wide as Downtown Cleveland Alliance; the development of the Playhouse Square District’s hotel, restaurants and residential living; and innovative partnerships with Cleveland Play House, Cleveland State University, ideastream and the K&D Group.
For the entirety of Art’s tenure, Playhouse Square has balanced its budget and today earns more than 90% of its operating budget, the highest percentage nationally in the performing arts industry. Many performing arts centers now look to Art, Gina and Playhouse Square’s executive team for ideas, suggestions and guidance.
“It has been an honor to lead an organization with such an incredibly talented team of staff and volunteers and with such a supportive board. It is so gratifying to know we have made such a positive contribution to Cleveland and Northeast Ohio,” said Art. “My decision to make this transition was made so much easier knowing we have such a talented and capable leader in Gina ready to take the helm.”
The annual Playhouse Square Center Stage Benefit on July 24, 2019 will honor Art, with proceeds raised supporting the organization’s area development mission. In November, it was announced that the organization’s President’s Award - given annually to an individual, foundation or organization in Northeast Ohio whose leadership, perseverance and dedication has contributed to the success of Playhouse Square – would become the “Falco Award.”