Glendale Arts Elevates Two to Lead Organization

Two managing directors of Glendale Arts, the nonprofit organization that has managed the iconic Alex Theatre for years, were promoted to high-level executive roles this month and together will lead the group, starting Aug. 1.

Nina Crowe, who presently handles fundraising and special events, will be chief executive officer, while Maria Sahakian, who manages bookings, marketing and messaging for the theater, will be chief operating officer. The Glendale Arts Board of Directors unanimously approved the promotions.

“It is an honor to have Nina and Maria lead Glendale Arts in an exciting new chapter for the organization. Their experience, dedication, and passion have guided us through the pandemic and we look forward to continued growth,” said board chair Phil Kubel in a statement.

Elissa Glickman, the longtime CEO, will remain involved in an advisory capacity to assist in the transition. 

In an interview, Glickman indicated the leadership change represented the conclusion of a relatively long-term plan to build a natural line of succession for the organization and was months in the making.

“They showed me their talents over the last year, so I made the decision that I would leave,” Glickman said of Crowe and Sahakian. “It’s really an extraordinary group of people and I couldn’t be more proud of what they’ve accomplished under the circumstances.”

“Through Elissa’s strategic leadership, she has crafted an operational foundation and built a team that has garnered the respect not only of the industry, but the community as well,” Kubel said. “We are privileged to have her remain on board in an advisory role as we emerge from one of the most challenging times in the [Alex’s] history.”

The Alex has not hosted an audience for a performance since days before the dawn of the coronavirus pandemic, and Glendale Arts has weathered the financial hit through a series of livestreaming fundraising events and donation campaigns. Glickman said she also anticipated federal relief through a program that assisted performance venues nationwide that were shuttered for significant periods of time.

“For the last couple of years, we’ve put together a strong organizational structure,” Glickman said. “As we started to go through the pandemic and as we started to answer [to the crisis] and develop the strategy for our 10-year plan, I really had an opportunity to step back and look at the team we were able to keep together during the pandemic and I came to the realization that the time was right.”

The iconic theater, whose signature Art Deco tower looms over Brand Boulevard in downtown’s arts, food and retail center, turned 95 during the pandemic. Under Glendale Arts, the theater underwent a significant expansion and became a landmark performing arts and filming venue.

Glendale Arts’ future with the venue, however, is in question, as the City Council on Tuesday may formally direct that contract negotiations with the group end and call for talks to begin with another organization that earlier this year bid to become the Alex’s manager. 

Since joining Glendale Arts in 2011, Crowe has helped raise close to $3 million toward operations and special projects as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars for programming, according to the organization. She has led development, planning and execution of fundraising events such as the annual Alex Theatre’s Birthday Celebration, the Illuminate Dinner, Taste Walk Glendale and community enrichment events such as POPUP and the Open Arts and Music Festival.

Crowe’s achievements have been recognized with a Woman in Business Award in 2019 from state Sen. Anthony Portantino. In 2020, she participated in the Executive Service Corps’ Executive Directors Leadership Institute and in 2021 was accepted into the ACTIVATE Innovators Cohort, an arts advocacy leadership institute through Arts for LA.

“I’m very excited for the opportunity,” Crowe said of her promotion. “It is very humbling. The vote from the board was unanimous and I’m very thankful for the opportunity that they’ve given me.”

Since joining the staff in 2003, Sahakian has booked more than 3,400 dates at the Alex that have generated nearly $30 million in revenue and attracted more than 1 million attendees. Sahakian was recognized with the Glendale Educational Foundation’s 2021 Diamond Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Arts and subsequently joined the GEF Board of Directors. She is also a founding member and immediate past chair of the Glendale Young Professionals, a program of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, and represents Glendale Arts on the city’s annual Armenian Genocide Commemoration and Tech Week planning committees.

“We’re incredibly proud of our work over the years, our accomplishments in the face of adversity in the past years and a half, and the vision we’ve created for this organization,” Sahakian said. “Our immediate priority is our post-COVID recovery plans, which of course involves reopening the theater and populating our calendar with performances and shows.”