- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Neale Perl has come full circle. More than 10 years ago, Mr. Perl was interested in working as the development director for the Washington Performing Arts Society (WPAS). He had been co-founder, executive director and artistic director of the Washington Chamber Society. He also served for three years as assistant director of the Maryland Summer Institute for the Creative and Performing Arts at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Instead, Mr. Perl at the suggestion of WPAS President and Chief Executive Officer Douglas H. Wheeler chose to take what was called a more challenging position. He became executive director at La Jolla Chamber Music Society in California in 1988.
Yesterday, WPAS officials announced that Mr. Perl, 46, will become Mr. Wheeler's successor in September. Mr. Wheeler is retiring after 20 years as WPAS president and 32 years with the nonprofit, arts presenter organization.
Board Chairman James F. Lafond and Lena Scott, chairwoman of WPAS' search and transition committee, presented Mr. Perl yesterday at a news conference at the St. Gregory Hotel in Northwest.
Mr. Perl will be the third president in the history of the organization, which was founded by impresario Patrick Hayes in 1965. Mr. Perl was hired after a nationwide search.
"These are big shoes to fill," Mr. Perl said after the news conference. "Some of the people in California think I'm crazy to leave. We have better weather in California, but we have a better cultural climate in D.C. It's an amazing opportunity."
Mr. Perl plans to start his time as president by listening to the community. He said it would take a while to meet the many supporters of the society in the area. He wants to start a winter festival and expand WPAS' educational outreach efforts.
WPAS officials said that in La Jolla Mr. Perl's organization had developed an extensive education program, including a partnership that brings musical instruction to under-served children. The La Jolla Chamber Music Society also presented leading symphony orchestras, solo artists and dance companies throughout the year, they said.
"Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, I fell in love with the cello," Mr. Perl said during his speech at the news conference. "Obviously, it changed my life."
He has been an active professional cellist.
Mr. Perl said he is excited to be able to expose his 4-year-old son, Cameron, to the Washington area. His wife Karen is originally from McLean. He said he also is looking forward to strengthening his relationship with Mr. Wheeler, who will continue to serve as a consultant to the organization.
"I had the privilege of working with all the great arts pioneers in the city," Mr. Wheeler said after the news conference. "There's a very positive legacy in place. It's good to have new energy, new ideas and new leadership."
Ms. Scott said that "Doug can help someone who is new. He has the connections and knows the board."
Mr. Lafond said Mr. Wheeler and Mr. Perl are part of the same family.
"People never really leave the organization," Mr. Lafond says. "Doug can be a good mentor to Neale."
Mr. Lafond said Mr. Perl's pleasant demeanor and personality helped convince him that Mr. Perl is the right person for the job. The chairman believes Mr. Perl will be able to maintain the relationships the association has created, as well as develop new ones.
"It's a new year with new frontiers, but it continues the tradition of the past," Mr. Lafond said.

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