Longtime Programming Director Departs Hop

  • Hopkins Center programming director Margaret Lawrence: “There’s a real richness of arts here.” Valley News - Jason Johns

  • Margaret Lawrence, director of programming for the Hopkins Center, introduces the upcoming season for the center in Alumni Hall in Hanover, N.H. Thursday, July 14, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The shows will go on at the Hopkins Center — just without the woman who scouted and invited a diverse parade of musicians, dancers and theater companies to Dartmouth College and to the Upper Valley for the past 23 years.

“I never thought I would be here this long,” Margaret Lawrence said on Tuesday from her home in Lyme. “I absolutely loved it. It’s been incredible. It’s unusual in this line of work for someone to stay someplace for anywhere near that long. After that much time, you do wonder, ‘Is this my entire life? Is there another chapter?’

“I’d like to take a break to think about what that chapter might be.”

While Lawrence, who officially stepped aside July 1 after a leave of absence, ponders her future, the Hopkins Center leadership is planning “to refine the role of the position prior to initiating any search” for Lawrence’s successor, Hop Director Mary Lou Aleskie said in a statement released on Tuesday night.

“In the short term,” Aleskie said, “Hopkins Center directors will be collaborating on upcoming programming while we assess our internal capacities and staffing.”

At the end of Monday night’s Hopkins Center launch party to the 2018-2019 season, which Lawrence usually emcees but did not attend, Aleskie had alerted Hop donors to Lawrence’s decision to step aside “to pursue other opportunities.” While a number of members wondered after the announcement what else might have prompted her to leave, Lawrence would say only that “the Hop is evolving, there are changes, as there are with any institution, and this is the ideal time for me to plan my next adventure.”

Coming to Hanover in 1995 from the West Coast was an adventure in itself for the then-29-year-old Lawrence.

“I grew up in California, went to UC-Berkeley and worked in Oregon at the start of my career,” Lawrence recalled. “Growing up, I never could have imagined living in New England.”

For most of the ensuing two decades, she added, she never could have imagined leaving.

“There’s no place like the Upper Valley,” Lawrence said. “It’s very, very special. There’s a combination of face-to-face friendships and the extraordinary people who live here. It’s a very unusual place.”

Lawrence was determined from the start to share the incoming artists she was recruiting with the community beyond the campus bubble as well as with students and faculty. Among the programs she particularly took pride in were the Hop’s Community Venture Initiative,  under which “we involved more than 6,000 people of all ages from more than 58 local towns.” It began with eight pilot programs, among them free “HopStop” performances in Hanover and Claremont, and went on to include a mentoring program for young area musicians spending an academic year with the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble, and a six-week youth poetry workshop with the Upper Valley Haven’s Teen Life Skills Center.

Between 2006 and 2009, under a grant that she secured from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, Lawrence oversaw the Hop’s Class Divide Initiative, an exploration of socio-economic status that brought in performers such as Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, Sweet Honey in the Rock and The Carolina Chocolate Drops, as well as opera composer Peter Sellars and playwright Anne Galjour, to work both with college students and with the wider community.

Lawrence’s commitment to bringing in performers from many ethnic groups came through in regular programming as well. This past spring alone, the acts ranged from cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and Afro-Cuban diva Dayme Arocenato to a troupe of seven Central Asian women who played instruments and sang and recited poetry from the ancient narrative about woman warriors defending what is now Uzbekistan against invaders from Persia.

“Diversity is very, very close to my heart,” she said. “The world we’re living in is really a diverse world. The role of an academic setting and an arts setting needs to embrace and feature as many people as possible. It’s important for the college students, and important for schoolchildren in the area to see, to understand the perspectives of the world around them.”

In the coming season, a procession of international performances kicks off in September with a company of Indian dancers criss-crossing the Moore Theater stage in step with the jazz trumpet of Iraqi-American musician Amir ElSaffar.

“Margaret was instrumental in bringing in the people you’ll be seeing,” Aleskie told Hop members on Monday. “We’ll be building on her legacy and success for years to come.”

Lebanon Opera House director Joe Clifford had a front-row seat on Lawrence’s initiatives for 17 years, first as director of outreach and arts education, later in marketing.

“There were things we did where at the start I thought we might have bitten off more than we could chew, but she brought them off,” said Clifford, who took the helm at the opera house in 2017. “She always looked for programs that would have resonance within the community.”

Many of the programs resonated with graduate student Camilla Tassi, while she pursued her own performing-arts projects toward her master’s degree in digital musics between the fall of 2016 and this spring.

“I was so impressed with the caliber and the variety of the performances,” Tassi, who will spend the next year as a research fellow in projection design at the Yale School of Drama, wrote on Wednesday during an exchange of emails. “I couldn’t believe Giselle” — South African choreographer Dada Masilo’s adaptation of the ballet — “and the residencies they did with students, Wynton Marsalis and Jazz from Lincoln Center. I always loved how they integrated the performances with work being done here. The caliber was that of a professional stand-alone performing arts center.”

Lawrence said that she would consider running another academic-connected center if the right opportunity came along.

“I’m trying not to limit myself, though I love being in higher education, being part of a community,” she said. “That’s why I’m taking a break, to be thoughtful about what comes next.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.