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New OSF development director to help chart post-pandemic era

In a move to solidify its financial foundation for the post-COVID era, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has hired Amanda Brandes as its new director of development.

With a broad funding and strategic planning background, Brandes joins Executive Director David Schmitz and Artistic Director Nataki Garrett in developing a vision for OSF, designed to enable it to thrive for the long-term.

Brandes comes to OSF from Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts where she served as acting director of corporate relations, director of institutional relations, and most recently as senior director of foundation and corporate partnerships during a seven-year stint.

Schmitz says he is pleased to have Brandes join the team.

“Amanda is an exceptional fundraising professional,” he said, “with proven experience in elevated positions at both national and regional levels. She is one who can implement complicated and successful development strategies.”

She helped take Lincoln Center in some new directions with special projects involving education and community engagement, which might guide some of her efforts at OSF.

“In that respect, my job is to take cues from David and Nataki,” she said. “Then my role is to execute and to look for opportunities wherever they present themselves.”

She says she also looks forward to working with the local business community to build on OSF’s reputation as a world-class destination.

“It is so important to engage in that way, getting to know local businesses and how our ecosystems overlap, looking for partnership opportunities. It will inform how I proceed at the local level.”

She’ll be part of the discussion of any changes OSF might make in its approach to fundraising and devloping donors both regionally and nationally.

“I know there’s a lot I still don’t know,” she said, “but I get the state of things here, which is no different from theater everywhere. When it comes to fundraising, I will turn over every possible rock. I’ll look for connections in lots of different ways.”

As the new development director, Brandes will join the executive team in support of a multi-year strategic plan to revitalize and redefine the organization’s infrastructure. This includes dealing with OSF’s reduced operations following a year without programming, and evolving the festival’s business model in response to climate change.

One of the topics of conversation in recent years is the possible retrofitting or rebuilding of the Elizabethan Theatre. OSF has initiated some studies on the project but has yet to announce any decisions or timetable.

“When it’s time, I really will be excited to dig into that project,” Brandes said. “We’ll be talking to our existing donor base, of course, but we can appeal to a different kind of donor on a national scale.”

She believes a unique project like that, which can set an example for the field, will garner the kind of national support that might not normally find its way to regional theater.

She believes the challenges for the performing arts, not unique to OSF, will take time to overcome, but she is optimistic about the future.

“Rebuilding of the program after being gone for a year won’t be simple,” she said. “We’ll need to help people feel comfortable gathering again. We’ll need fundraising to take a big lift in the interim.

“There are so many different types of opportunities. And we’ve not yet seen the full impact of Nataki’s leadership.”

One of her pet projects at Lincoln Center was its Big Umbrella Festival, the world’s first month-long festival dedicated to arts programs for children on the autism spectrum and their families.

“Our goal was to create an immersive project that employed the senses of touch, smell, sight and sound,” she said.

It wasn’t an easy sell to donors at first.

“You can get donors excited about some projects just by talking about them,” she said.

But in the case of the Big Umbrella Festival, a show-and-tell approach did the trick. Donors were invited to a special demonstration performance.

“It was a light bulb moment,” she said. “We saw the conversations pivot on a dime when they saw how it could work for kids and their families. It also showed us how it worked for the actors and staff.”

Brandes says she has been inspired by Garrett’s emerging vision for OSF and her dedication to positioning OSF, and theater more generally, as a driver of community building, social justice, and activism.

“She has made the case, unapologetically, for why the arts matter in this moment,” she said. “I am excited to lead OSF’s development team and join its community at this pivotal moment for performing arts around the world.”

Before transitioning to fundraising, Brandes held consulting and producing roles with Red Bull Theater, Keen Company, the Dorset Theatre Festival, and Studio 42.

She began her career as associate executive director and general manager for The New Group, a contemporary theater company in New York. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and an MA in the humanities from the University of Chicago’s Master of Arts Program.

For information about digital offerings and news about OSF, go to osfashland.org.

You can reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

Amanda Brandes