When Rachel Moore takes her place among the scholarly and intellectually elite of our nation’s history, it won’t just be to accept an honor for which she is highly flattered.
She wants to use it as an opportunity to change the world.
The Los Angeles Music Center CEO, Moore thinks big and inclusively. It’s one of many reasons she is being inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an organization founded in 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock and 60 other scholar-patriots.
The original class included George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, and over the years the American and honorary foreign members have included Alexander Hamilton, Charles Darwin, Duke Ellington, Willa Cather, Eudora Welty, Robert Frost, Martha Graham, Margaret Mead, Martin Luther King Jr. and Antonin Scalia.
When she meets with their commission on the arts, she wants to take a deep look at questions on what the future of the arts will look like, especially after the COVID-19 crisis.
“It is more relevant than ever to think about who the arts are taking to,” Moore said. “It is such a powerful glue to bring people together, a source of healing. People are grieving not just because of people they love and have lost, but anniversaries or weddings or graduations, life events they’ve missed. The arts will be so important around that as well. I hope those are some of the questions that can be discussed in a thoughtful way.”
Moore’s career arc began in Davis, the child of economics professors at the UC Davis. It was the ’70s, a time Moore describes as being very aspirational. The nation was still on a high from finishing a race to the moon, and people had big ideas about what they could do.
“I was really fortunate to be raised in Davis, which is a place, certainly when I was growing up, where people were encouraged to follow their dreams,” she said.
In addition to Davis, her family spent time in India and Saudi Arabia, so she learned early about diversity.
“This is incredible to learn as a younger person,” Moore said. “It has informed my work post-dance career.”
Moore started dancing at the Davis Arts Center, a studio that became a sanctuary to her. She could go and get away from whatever was troubling her—which was usually her annoying brothers, she says.
“It was a place where I could learn this art form and really believe that the arts create something special in the world,” Moore said.
When she was 13, Robert Joffrey of the Joffrey Ballet came to UC Davis to teach a class. He offered her a scholarship to go to New York. Her parents said absolutely not but then realized this was more than a hobby for her.
Dance consumed her teenage years.
“What a gift as a teenager—to have something to be really focused on, to have something you wanted to achieve, to have a direction is really helpful,” she said. “I was incredibly honored to be able to dance with the American Ballet Theater. It was a difficult thing. I was young and very naïve moving to New York to be able to dance with some of the greatest dancers and theater artists and travel the world performing, but what an incredible gift it was.”
After an injury, Moore left dancing and went into arts management and earned an arts management degree from Columbia.
Her resume has since included the director for the Boston Ballet Center for Dance Education, the executive director of Project STEP in Boston, the managing director of Ballet Theatre of Boston, and the executive director and CEO of the American Ballet Theatre.
She joined the Music Center as CEO in October 2015.
Sasha Anawalt, the director of the arts journalism program at the USC, has followed Moore since she was a corps de ballet dancer in the 1980s.
“When you’re a critic, you know dancers from how they move and what they do,” Anawalt said. “You form a relationship as a critic even with people who are in the corps de ballet. You know and care about them. She always stood out to me because she is tall and red-headed and beautiful and amazing.”
Anawalt and Moore agree that the transition from dancer to administrator was one for which Moore was equipped.
“Her strength and power and her astonishing vision is that she understands money,” says Anawalt. “She understands politics. She understands people.”
Moore said she bridged between the artistic community and business.
“Having economists as parents, I was never afraid of numbers or of financial conversations,” Moore said. “The dancers didn’t understand the board members and found them scary. The board members weren’t really sure of dancers and found them scary. I felt like I was this bridge and we were able to solve a lot of problems.”
These problems ranged from getting new dance floors and larger physical therapy offices to fighting for more women choreographers. She says that hearkened back to her time in India and Saudi Arabia.
“People who may on the surface look different aren’t very different. At root, we all have the same human core. I wanted to bring that sensibility to an art form I really love,” Moore said.
It’s a vision that she brought Los Angeles.
Moore expressed the importance of the Music Center’s work needing to deepen the cultural life of every resident of Los Angeles County.
“We’re going to have to engage people’s life in the arts in new and different ways,” Moore said. “How do you personally involve yourself in the arts? How are we really embracing the diversity of LA County in what we are doing as an arts institution? Those are areas that will be really interesting to talk to with fellow members of the academy.”
Anawalt added, “What she wants to do and is doing is flattening the city to the best of her capacity to allow for more democracy. She is allowing for more access. She literally took the Plaza and squished it down and opened it up so that people can come. It’s not la-di-da land. You don’t have to have $100 to go and see something. Quite a few times you can come for free and you can perform yourself and engage in dance yourself and bring your guitar and play yourself.”
Moore said the Plaza Project was in the works before she arrived but has gotten greater momentum in part because of Grand Park across from it being revisioned as an arts park. They now make sure that the Park and the Plaza speak to each other. She said the Plaza used to be a very up-and-down place, not a place you hung out in, so they made it flat and open, made the stairs less steep, and put in escalators and gardens.
“It is really welcoming. This is our front door, and anyone can come,” Moore said. “When we’re open, there are food options at many different price points. You don’t have to be wealthy. You could come to the Plaza and have a burger and sit with kids and have them be screaming and running around the fountain. We have screens that allow us to do digital programming, which will be a big part of our future.”
Their original plan was to have every Friday night this summer to be a free dance night with a teacher coming out and teaching such things as samba under the stars and having up to 5,000 people dancing together. That’s all on hold now as Moore and the Music Center figures out how they will reopen and keep people safe amid a pandemic.
Moore has put a lot of thought into it. For the Music Center, she is focused on their facilities and on their programming.
“Because we have these open spaces like the Plaza and the Park, we’ll start to do activities outside before we open the proscenium,” Moore said. “We can social distance in different says. We will phase that in as we go forward.”
She said there are two issues. Science has to prove everything is safe. She said they have a close partnership with the county and public health officials. The second issue is how to get people feel safe after they’ve been told for so long to isolate.
“We can look to the arts to build that fence of trust and community again,” Moore said. “Our programming team is really deep in thought of how we are going to help people lay claim to these spaces, what we are going to put on stage that will resonate with people after this incredibly tragic moment. So, it is both programmatic and physical, both emotional and physical.”