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In a statement released Monday, Kim Gaynor says she and the board came to a 'mutual decision that it was best to part ways at this time.' Her departure takes effect on Friday.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

In a surprise move, Vancouver Opera general director Kim Gaynor is stepping down, citing “a divergence of opinion” with the board about the future growth of the company. In a statement released Monday, Ms. Gaynor says she and the board came to a “mutual decision that it was best to part ways at this time.” Her departure takes effect on Friday.

Tom Wright, who has been director of artistic planning for 13 seasons, will take over as interim general director.

In an email to The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, Gaynor directed her comments at the arts environment in general. “Vancouver is a tough place to run an arts organisation. There are probably many reasons but the arts don’t occupy much space in public discourse … and therefore they become a bit invisible,” Gaynor wrote.

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“The challenge is to get support (human and financial) in such an environment is really tough and that creates a feeling of competition in the sector. … And the strain takes its toll inside organisations too. As leaders (perhaps women leaders more than men?), we need to be able to dream sometimes.”

Ms. Gaynor joined the opera three years ago, and was given the challenge of moving the company from a traditional season (or “stagione”) model to a festival with a number of events during a concentrated period in the spring – a decision that had been made by the board and her predecessor, James Wright, ahead of his retirement. The move had been made in response to financial and organizational challenges. (Ms. Gaynor has also programmed productions at other times of the year.)

“They felt mutually that it was time for Kim to move on,” Tom Wright told The Globe and Mail in an interview on Monday.

In her public statement, Ms. Gaynor – who is Canadian but came to Vancouver from the Verbier Festival in Switzerland – indicates that the decision followed several months of discussions with the board.

In a statement, board chair Bill Maclagan wishes Ms. Gaynor the best in her future endeavours. “We at Vancouver Opera are excited about our first-class opera program and that will continue,” the statement reads. “We are also excited about continuing to develop and expand our many community engagement and educational initiatives. The board is committed to finding a sound business model to support these activities and the organization’s future growth.”

Ms. Gaynor’s departure was announced to staff the morning after the final show of the opera’s production of La Traviata and less than six months before the launch of the fourth annual festival, which will open with Another Brick in the Wall: The Opera.

Tom Wright says knowing that Ms. Gaynor would be leaving, he has been working for the past while on planning the 60th anniversary season with the senior leadership team.

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“I can’t tell you how positive I am feeling about this organization. I wish Kim the best. We did have a very collegial and positive relationship,” he says.

Ms. Gaynor’s departure follows the exit of a number of other female leaders of cultural organizations in Vancouver, including the Vancouver Art Gallery, Ballet BC and the Vancouver International Film Festival.

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