HAPPY TRAILS: Boch Center CEO Joe Spaulding plans to step down from his post on May 31. (Getty Images)
After nearly four decades, Joe Spaulding is stepping down as president and CEO of the Boch Center, which includes the 3,500-seat Wang Theatre and the 1,600-cap Shubert Theatre in Boston’s theater district.
On the heels of the development of a forward-leaning strategic plan, a record operating year and the successful launch of the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame (FARHOF), Spaulding said, “We have a win streak going and it struck me that it was a good time to have a new president/CEO come in.”
Spaulding plans to step down on May 31, 2024. He will continue to serve as a senior advisor and consultant and will focus his attention on providing support during the transition and on the expansion of the Hall of Fame, which he established in 2019. A search firm will be engaged with the goal of announcing Spaulding’s successor by the end of 2023.
“You know this business is 24/7/365 and I wanted to spend my later years, my 70s, being able to play with my grandchildren,” Spaulding said. “And the good news is, they go home.”
Quick witted and a tireless advocate for the arts, Spaulding was a folk musician in the 1960s and ‘70s with some success but found his future achievement on the business side of a microphone. He started an independent record label, was named senior vice president of popular music in the U.S. and Canada for a division of RCA and developed 20,000-seat amphitheaters before being recruited 38 years ago to run the Boch Center.
After taking over, Spaulding transformed a failing theater that was slated for demolition into a National Historic Landmark and one of the most successful non-profit performing arts centers in the U.S.
“For 38 years, Joe Spaulding has shaped the Boch Center’s mission, vision, goals and priorities with a keen eye, a great ear and sense of purpose,” said Mark Weld, Boch Center board chair in a release. “His energy, enthusiasm for the arts and his steadfast commitment to serving the broadest possible audience has positioned the Boch Center as the gold standard by which other performing arts centers are measured. Joe is an icon, an innovator, an educator and an inspiration.”
The Boch Center board recently ratified a strategic vision plan developed with input from community leaders, funders, staff, educators, artists and other stakeholders that will serve as a blueprint for future growth. For continuity, Weld will remain as board chair through 2025.
Over nearly four decades, Spaulding has been the driving force behind major milestones at the Boch Center. He oversaw the restoration of the historic Wang and Shubert Theatres, attracted top Broadway shows to Boston including the “Phantom of the Opera,” “Miss Saigon” and “RENT,” introduced young people to the arts through no-cost arts education and training programs, championed presenting performers that represented diverse cultural traditions, distributed thousands of free tickets to school groups and social service agencies and raised tens of millions of dollars to support arts education.
Spaulding forged lucrative partnerships with Citigroup in 2006 and two years later he penned a unique co-booking agreement with Madison Square Garden Entertainment. In 2016, he negotiated a long-term naming sponsorship with the Boch Family.
“The Boch Center would not be where it is today without Joe Spaulding at the helm,” stated Ernie Boch Jr., president of the Boch Family Foundation, in a release. “Thirty-eight years ago, Joe saw the potential and history behind the bones of these theatres and brought them back to life. He has been the North Star of the Boch Center with his passion and advocation for the arts and live entertainment. It has truly been his life’s work, and I’m proud to have stood by his side.”
Spaulding helped secure bi-partisan support and more than $16 billion in federal grant funding that helped sustain theaters and performing arts centers across the country during the shutdown. Coming out of COVID, Spaulding believed the live industry would rebound.
“I bet on the ranch that live would come back in a very big way,” Spaulding said. “Since we’ve reopened, it has been tremendous for us and we’ve had more sold out shows of all genres than we’ve ever had in my 38 years.”
During Spaulding’s tenure, the Boch Center has become a valuable tourist destination with an economic impact on the Commonwealth in excess of $70 million annually.
Active in the community, Spaulding chaired the Boston Theatre District Association and the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Currently he is a Trustee of Mass General Brigham and an Honorary Trustee of Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Partners Continuing Care.
“Joe Spaulding has changed lives and shaped the fabric of our city,” said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu in a statement. “Joe’s tireless efforts to revitalize the theater district and develop innovative programs engaging young people in the performing arts have changed Boston for the better.”
One of Spaulding’s proudest accomplishments was the creation of FARHOF, which is housed in the Wang Theatre. Through exhibits, tours, lectures, educational programming and concerts, FARHOF has become Boston’s living music museum and performing arts center.
Upcoming exhibits include Bruce Springsteen Photography and The Legends, with instruments from Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Josh White, Lead Belly and many others.
“I believe the arts and music are the foundation of a civilized society and nurture the creative spirit in all of us,” Spaulding said. “A creative person is a better person. And I get to do that every single day of my life in my career at the Boch Center.”