Women Who Inspire: Kara Medoff Barnett, Executive Director of American Ballet Theatre
March—also known as Women’s Heritage Month—was an opportune time to launch Women Who Inspire, a series on the Love, Reese blog featuring fabulous females whose accomplishments and drive are worthy of admiration and celebration.
Today’s subject (our third to date): Kara Medoff Barnett, executive director of the American Ballet Theatre.
A North Carolina native (she grew up in Greensboro, where her parents still live), Kara started ballet dancing at the age of three, but gave it up when she went to college. She pursued a career in the arts—winning a Tony award along the way for her role as an associate producer—and landed as an executive at Lincoln Center in New York after graduating from Harvard Business School. In February of 2016, she came full circle when she returned to her first artistic passion by joining A.B.T. (if not as a dancer, then to run the place!).
Right now, Kara and her team are busy preparing for the spring season at the Metropolitan Opera House, which runs May 15th through July 8th and features a different ballet every week. The centerpiece of the season is the New York premiere of “Whipped Cream” by Alexei Ratmansky with sets and costumes by Mark Ryden. The ballet had its world premiere just over a week ago at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA, where these photos were taken.
Kara lives in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood with her husband and three daughters, but she’s still a Southerner at heart.
Who was your first mentor?
My five siblings. They taught me how to embrace chaos! Outside my family, my Duke University professor Manny Azenberg, who is a legendary Broadway producer, taught me to trust my own instincts and how to nurture and support creative work behind the scenes. And [former] Lincoln Center President Reynold Levy taught me how to apply entrepreneurial ideas to managing a large, complex institution.
What did you love to do as a child that could have helped predict where you are today?
I danced around the living room. And the kitchen. And the backyard. I used to dress my little brother in a blue leotard, and I would wear the pink leotard, and I would choreograph pas de deux set to the record of “Man of La Mancha.”
What advice would you give a young person whose dream is to follow in your footsteps?
Work for people you admire and learn from them.
Professionally, what are you proudest of in the last 12 months?
In 2016 I started a new job, had a baby, and moved into a new home, in that order, in the space of three months. I’m proud that I survived the upheaval! In my new role at the helm of A.B.T., I am proud that we boldly forged ahead with the production of Whipped Cream. A new ballet is expensive, and risky. But we believed in our Artist-in-Residence Alexei Ratmansky and he over-delivered.
Who or what are you most inspired by right now?
The vivid imagination of Alexei Ratmansky, A.B.T. Artist-in-Residence, and the vivid imaginations of my three daughters.
What do you wish you had more time to do?
Ski. Visit New York treasures—museums, the zoo, Central Park—with my seven- and five- year-old daughters.
What about the South remains part of your daily life?
I feel compelled to handwrite thank you notes and to send them in lined envelopes. And I say “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir” a lot.
“Bless her heart” and “precious.”