Spoleto Festival USA believes its found a leader who can navigate the festival into a new era. After an extensive search, the world-renowned festival will welcome its first new general director in over 35 years.
Mena Mark Hanna has been selected to take the helm of Spoleto Festival as it heads into its 45th season. Hanna joins the arts festival after serving as founding dean and professor of musicology at Berlin’s Barenboim-Said Akademie. Hanna’s experience curating and planning concerts, festivals and events will serve him well as he helps to plan the annual two-week showcase of international performing arts.
Following the retirement announcement by former general director Nigel Redden, the festival’s board of directors installed a selection committee to scour the globe for the right person to fill Redden’s shoes. When Spoleto 2021 concluded in mid-June, the search was still ongoing. Hanna will take over duties this October when Redden’s tenure officially ends.
Born to Egyptian parents, Hanna will be the first person of color to lead the international arts festival in its 45 year history. He is known professionally as someone who has been outspoken about representation in classical music and opera, criticizing the colonialism of the medium and the racism that persists in opera mainstays like Aida.
At a time when representation is being demanded on stages and in culture, the selection of Hanna could be seen as a bold step for Spoleto Festival USA. Selecting Hanna to lead the organization indicates a desire to implement lasting, substantial change from the top of the organization down.
“Mena possesses a depth of knowledge and experience across artistic genres, and also — essential for Spoleto and Charleston — understands and is passionate about the power of artistic expression to bridge differences and bring people together,” said Alicia Gregory, president of the board of Spoleto Festival USA. “At a time when creating access to and opportunities for meaningful representation is crucially important — in the cultural sector and across society — the next leader of the festival must understand the power of art in promoting civic pride and effecting social change.”
Prior to Berlin, Hanna was assistant artistic director and dramaturg at Houston Grand Opera. He received his Ph.D from Merton College at Oxford University, where he studied musicology and music composition.
“Spoleto Festival USA has a strong legacy of presenting exemplary, cutting-edge work that showcases and celebrates the breadth of artistic expression. It has been a dream of mine to lead a multi-disciplinary festival, and there is no other like Spoleto,” said Hanna. “What really excites me most about Spoleto is the opportunity to promote robust engagement with these art forms, and a deeper understanding of what it means to be human and how we can use the arts to bridge our differences.”
“Spoleto is both international in scope, introducing new voices and commissioning new work and, at the same time, has a deep, year-round commitment to the Charleston artistic community and youth. I look forward to joining such a dynamic community.”