peter mcdowell hired as new managing director for eighth blackbird performing arts association


CHICAGO, Oct. 1, 2013—eighth blackbird, a leading contemporary classical chamber music ensemble, has hired Peter McDowell as its new Managing Director. Peter brings nearly two decades of professional arts administration expertise to the organization, most recently as the founder of Peter McDowell Arts Consulting, where he has coached individual performing artists and arts organizations throughout the country on capacity building and organizational development projects.  From 1997-2006, Peter was a Program Director for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs where he curated over 1000 music, dance, film/video and theater programs and first encountered eighth blackbird.


“I am thrilled about my new position as Managing Director of eighth blackbird. It feels like a natural extension to what I have been doing with classical music – both at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, where I first met and worked with members of the ensemble, to the work I have been doing in the last four years with my consulting business. I believe strongly in the transformative power of chamber music and I am in awe of the talent, heart, and brilliant personalities of these musicians. I can’t wait to dive in to this new work with a group of individuals who are changing the face of classical music.”


Peter McDowell will work alongside of outgoing Managing Director Jen Richards for one month to ensure a smooth transition. Jen was the organization’s first full-time staff person and has overseen five years of rapid growth.  A nationally recognized organizer in the transgender community, she is leaving the organization to pursue activism full-time.


eighth blackbird Board President Sarah Solotaroff Mirkin states that “eighth blackbird owes a debt of gratitude to Jen Richards for building an administrative structure for the music ensemble over the five years she as acted as the Managing Director.  During her tenure she has provided financial, marketing, fund raising, and production skills and has added appropriate staff for those functions – all of this necessary to support the rapid growth of and increasing demand for eighth blackbird.  We are confident that Peter McDowell will bring that same vision and energy to the next stage of the ensemble.”


“These last five years have been an incomparably joyful and rewarding challenge,” says Jen Richards. “The opportunity to work with some of the world’s finest musicians, who just happen to be some of kindest, funniest, and brightest individuals I have ever met, has been a dream realized, one made all the sweeter by a similarly astonishing staff, Board, and wider community of colleagues.”


eighth blackbird has recently added four Board members – Chris Joyce, a director at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Jamie Rubin, an attorney with the Information Law Group, Nell Stanton, Senior Consultant at Towers Watson, and most recently Kate Bensen, Executive Director of The Chicago Network,  three new staff positions – Annie Higgins as Company Manager, as well as Dana Horst, Development Director, and Deidre Huckabay, Development Associate through the newly launched Creative Partners, a joint fundraising & staffing project with Lucky Plush Productions and Blair Thomas & Company.Looking ahead, Peter McDowell says he “will seek to strengthen a strong base for eighth blackbird here in Chicago, while working to increase their already prominent visibility and support nationally and internationally.”


ABOUT eighth blackbird: eighth blackbird combines the finesse of a string quartet, the energy of a rock band and the audacity of a storefront theater company. The Chicago-based, three-time Grammy Award-winning “super-musicians” (LA Times) entertain and provoke audiences across the country and around the world. In addition to longstanding relationships as Ensemble in Residence at the University of Richmond and University of Chicago, eighth blackbird is also in its second year of a three-year, Mellon Foundation-funded term as Ensemble in Residence at Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. eighth blackbird’s members hail from America’s Great Lakes, Keystone, Golden and Bay states, and Australia’s Sunshine State. The name “eighth blackbird” derives from the eighth stanza of Wallace Stevens’s evocative, aphoristic poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1917).


Highlights of 2013/14 include Chicago appearances at Ravinia, Millennium Park and the Museum of Contemporary Art; the premiere and multi-city tour of the evening length work “Heart & Breath”; and, performances of the concerto “On a Wire” with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and New World Symphony.


More information at


ABOUT Peter McDowell: A native of Champaign, IL, Peter has lived and worked in San Francisco, New York City, and Chicago over the past twenty years. Most recently, he is founder of Peter McDowell Arts Consulting, where he works with individual performing artists and arts organizations nationwide, conducts high level publicity campaigns, and creates WordPress web sites through, a company Peter co-founded with San Francisco designer Ari Salomon. Peter was formerly Program Director for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs from 1997-2006, after which he served for over two years as Director of Programs at OPERA America in New York City. He has an undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois, and a Masters in Arts Administration from the Bolz Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.


Interview with Peter McDowell on eighth blackbird’s blog.