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by molly raskin | October 29, 2012 | People
Leader of the pack: Wolf Trap's president of 17 years, Terrence Jones
Framed notes of appreciation were presented to Jones over the years.
This Frank Lloyd Wright glass replica was a gift to Jones from the architect of Wolf Trap's Center of Education, Robert Wilson Mobley.
Cover of Jones's first published book.
After 17 years at the helm of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, Terrence Jones will retire at the end of this year. Like many nonprofit executives, he is regarded as a strong leader capable of growing and nourishing an organization. But the 64-year-old, known to friends and colleagues as Terre, isn’t like most C-suite executives and, as it follows, Jones’s imprint on the Northern Virginia performing arts and education center is far from standard. He transformed the country’s only national park for the performing arts into a crossroads for entertainment, education, and sustainability. “Terre’s contributions to the industry have been extraordinary. His commitment to education through the arts and to fostering new works have been unparalleled, particularly in light of challenging economic times during his presidency,” says John C. Lee, chairman of Wolf Trap’s board of directors.
The foundation’s pioneering signature series, Faces of America, pairs the Wolf Trap Foundation with the National Park Service in a production that juxtaposes world-class performances with the beauty and people of the country’s parks. Filmed on location, the multimedia performances are then displayed on a giant high-definition screen at Wolf Trap in conjunction with live music and dance. The shows have also appeared on PBS as part of its Great Performances series and are considered by many to be Jones’s tour de force. But when Jones first conceived of the idea for Faces of America in 1999, it was anything but a smash hit. “A lot of people looked at me like I was crazy,” he says. “They’d say things like, ‘You’re trying to do what?’” But after its first knockout performance—staged at Yosemite National Park, where dancers, suspended off sheer cliff faces, performed aerially to the sounds of a Native American flutist—Jones had audiences gasping. And many of the park superintendents, once baffled by the series, are now practically clamoring to host one. “I think there is a very close tie between what humans feel when they see something incredible in nature and what they feel when they hear something musically incredible,” says Jones, who will continue to oversee Face of America as chief adviser until 2016.
During his tenure, ticket sales have remained steady despite the economic downturn. The foundation has booked and presented a diverse roster of artists, from composer Philip Glass and the band Wilco to jazz greats Don Byron and Max Roach. It has also prioritized education with the Children’s Theatre-in-the- Woods and other programs including the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts. What’s more, Wolf Trap has grown into an award-winning model of sustainability.
Due to an earnest push by Jones—a self-described eco-activist—the foundation now recycles everything from box-office paper, plastic, and glass to lawn trimmings, and it runs on high-efficiency power systems. “From the time I was a child I spent time in the wild and parks. [I] understood that you treat[ed] them well so others can enjoy them after you,” Jones says. And while Jones led the organization for almost two decades, he recognizes his role on a team level. “If I’d like to be [remembered] for anything, it’s that I really cared about the people here,” he says, offering a nod to his staff, donors, and volunteers. “I didn’t do all this; we all did it together.”
While Jones says leaving the job of a lifetime won’t be easy, he’s clearly looking forward to what lies ahead—and it’s far from the stereotypical life of a suburban golfer. Jones and his wife, Polly, are relocating to a home they own in Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, Jones says he’ll focus on pursuits that his work at Wolf Trap left little time for, namely photography.
In June, Jones published his first book of photographs: Road Trip: A Photographer’s Journey to America’s National Parks, which he created during a yearlong sabbatical from Wolf Trap. For three months in 2008 he drove solo across 19,000 miles, with three cameras and an iPod to capture the beauty of the nation’s national parks. In total, Jones visited 88 parks. He already has a sequel to the book in the works, and will continue to tour parks as long as he’s able.
When he reflects on his impending departure from Wolf Trap, Jones says he feels bittersweet. He’ll miss everything about the center, from the acoustics, which he calls some of the finest and most intimate he’s ever heard, to all the longtime volunteer ushers. But Jones isn’t dwelling too much on the goodbyes. Instead, with more Faces of America productions to plan, he is literally and figuratively going out on a high note.
photography by PATRICK MCDERMOTT