ArtsEmerson founder Rob Orchard to step down

by Christina Jedra / Beacon Staff • September 11, 2014

Rob Orchard has been with the college since 2009.
Courtesy of ArtsEmerson
Rob Orchard has been with the college since 2009.
Courtesy of ArtsEmerson

After staging dozens of award-winning productions, creating relationships with 39 artistic companies, and building an audience over four seasons, the man who launched ArtsEmerson is stepping down. 

Rob Orchard, the founding executive director of ArtsEmerson: The World on Stage and executive director of Emerson’s Office of the Arts, will start a new creative and personal chapter starting Jan. 1, 2015, President M. Lee Pelton announced Sept. 11. 

David Dower, the current director of artistic programs at ArtsEmerson, will take over his roles.

In an interview with the Beacon, Orchard said he plans to remain an active member of the Emerson community and spend a third of his “retired” time as a creative consultant for ArtsEmerson to help with programming, fundraising, and shepherding projects. He said it has been a pleasure to watch the program — and its audience — grow since its inception. 

“Now, after four seasons, we feel we’ve anchored it,” said Orchard. “We’ve carved out a niche in the community for the work we’re doing. It’s adding to a cultural richness of the community that wouldn’t otherwise be seen in Boston.” 

In 2009, Orchard was set to retire from his executive director position at the American Repertory Theater when Emerson provided a job offer he couldn’t resist. 

“The idea of being able to work at Emerson, with its incredible focus on arts and communications, with the creativity of the faculty and the students, and the idea of bringing artists from all over the world into this environment — it was just too wonderful an opportunity to pass up,” he said. 

In an interview with the Beacon, Pelton praised Orchard for his work with ArtsEmerson and said he feels confident in the upcoming leadership transition. 

“David and Rob have had a significant and well-oiled partnership since David’s arrival, and I’m convinced that David will step seamlessly into that role,” Pelton said, adding that he sees the program’s success as having expanded the college’s reach. “ArtsEmerson is now the portal through which many people in Boston enter Emerson College.” 

Dower — who will also succeed Orchard as the Stephen G. Langley chair in theatre management and production in the Department of the Performing Arts — said in an interview that he hopes to enhance ArtsEmerson’s core missions. 

“Rob has made a platform that we’re going be able to build on that makes the citizens of Boston members of the Emerson family and provides a resource to the field of world theater,” said Dower, 56, who has been at Emerson since 2012. 

Orchard, who will turn 68 in December, said he looks forward to watching the program expand in his new role as a consultant. 

“I feel very strongly that theater has the capacity to make a difference in people’s lives,” Orchard said. “It can be a catalyst for conversation, and helps a community process various issues, and I want to spend the time now making that resonate more deeply.”