Spivey Hall’s Executive And Artistic Director Sam Dixon Announces Retirement After 17 Seasons

While many of us celebrate a return to live performances, with theaters and music venues reopening, a chapter is closing at one of Atlanta’s most esteemed music institutions. Just south of the city, Spivey Hall is one of the world’s great venues for classical music. Spivey Hall’s executive and artistic Director Sam Dixon recently announced his decision to retire, after the pandemic turned a year of programming upside-down, and the future of the institution appeared to demand a new approach. Dixon joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom to talk about his decision and the legacy he leaves at Spivey.

“There are many reasons for retiring,” he said. “There’s going to be change here. We have experienced extraordinary changes in the last eighteen months… I will tell you, it was really personally hurtful to me to have to see a whole season of programming, just wiped out. That really did affect my life and my sense of self for a while,” said Dixon. “But I’m so proud that Spivey Hall was able to regroup and show up online, and we presented fifteen virtual concerts, and they were very well received.”

Dixon cited, in his retirement announcement, “major waves of change in American culture and society that will strongly influence the future of many institutions, including those of higher education and the performing arts.” He described feeling that it was time for new voices to take up leadership roles – an opportune moment for him to step aside.

“There’s been this tremendous shift in American society, and in our culture as well. And such things as the ‘Me Too’ movement, such things as Black Lives Matter… All of these things were very, very actively in my consciousness, working at home. And I also decided, at one moment, with all of these changes, we would have a new president… and a new president always initiates a new cycle of long-range planning.” Dixon went on, “It’s sort of like when you look into a microscope or a telescope, and you’re trying to focus, and suddenly there’s a moment of clarity… I thought, ‘This is the right time. I’ve been in this job for seventeen years… I do think arts organizations periodically need renewal.”

Dixon plans to remain in Atlanta and aid in the passing of his position to a successor. He also aspires to downsize in his material life, after living for years in a large home with, by his account, “literally 7,000 CDs” in it. “I know I can live with very little and be very happy,” said Dixon. “I need time and energy to downsize… I’m going to do that in a way that will be organic and probably non-linear, but it will be mine.”

Dixon’s final day in his role is July 31, which will come after the announcement of his last season of programming. He departs with the assurance that Spivey Hall will uphold the proud achievements of Walter and Emilie Spivey, its founders, who built “a place for fine music on the Southside of Atlanta, which is an area that traditionally had been underserved by the fine arts.” But he emphasized the need for new directors that would recognize an evolving student body with modern needs and shifting relationships to music, in an era of streaming and other technologies.

“We don’t have all the time in the world. We do have to make choices about what matters to us,” said Dixon. “The music continues to matter deeply to me, more than anything else. That has been the supreme reward.”