Sam Dixon, Spivey Hall's executive & artistic director, with the newly arrived "Clara" Hamburg Steinway, February 10, 2012. (credit: Mark Gresham)

Spivey Hall executive & artistic director Sam Dixon to retire after 17 seasons

MARK GRESHAM | 07 JUN 2021

Samuel C. Dixon, executive & artistic director of Spivey Hall at Clayton State University, will retire from his position effective August 1, 2021.

Sam Dixon (courtesy of Spivey Hall)

Sam Dixon (courtesy of Spivey Hall)

Like many in metro Atlanta, Dixon discovered Spivey Hall at the opening gala concerts by Itzhak Perlman, Andre Watts and Samuel Ramey. At the time, he was working with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra as artistic administrator.

After leaving the ASO and moving away from Atlanta, Dixon and Spivey’s founding executive & artistic director Sherryl Nelson remained in touch, so he was well-informed of what Spivey Hall was doing.

In October 2004, Dixon moved back to Atlanta to join the Spivey Hall staff when Nelson hired him as assistant director/general manager. Following her retirement and a national search, he was named her successor in September 2006.

“After much reflection, I have reached the point at which I am ready to start a new chapter of my life,” says Dixon. “This point happens to coincide not only with the imminent retirement of Dr. Thomas J. Hynes, Jr. and the appointment of a new president for Clayton State, but also with major waves of change in American culture and society that I believe will strongly influence the future of many institutions, including those of higher education and the performing arts. Their responses will likely require serious examination, evaluation, and re-calibration of their missions, priorities, and strategic goals.”


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Dixon notes that Spivey Hall is ready to embrace technology more fully to extend the reach and enhance the value of its concert and educational programming, but at the same time faces a need for some timely, major physical renovations.

“I believe that as a department of Clayton State, Spivey Hall will benefit from having a director with knowledge, experience, and professional interest in these areas who can also articulate and realize a vision for its ongoing success,” he says. “I thus see this moment as a propitious one for new leadership at Spivey Hall at a time when my own plans are now focused on other priorities and opportunities.”

Dixon’s aesthetically astute Spivey Series programming has featured performances by internationally renowned classical, jazz, and world-music soloists and ensembles as well as debuts of emerging local, regional and national musicians who have gone on to earn widespread artistic acclaim.

Spivey Hall, stage, Steinway pianos and Fratelli Ruffatti organ casework as seen from the back of the audience. (courtesy of Spivey Hall)

Spivey Hall, stage, Steinway pianos and Fratelli Ruffatti organ casework as seen from the back of the audience. (courtesy of Spivey Hall)

Beyond the consistently stellar artists and programming Dixon has brought to Spivey Hall over his 17 seasons at its helm, some notable milestones include:

  • the 25th anniversary season celebrations of the Spivey Series in 2015-16 and the Hall’s magnificent Fratelli Ruffatti organ in 2016-17
  • creation of Spivey Education’s award-winning distance-learning video, The King of Instruments: History, Science, and Music of the Pipe Organ
  • acquisition of two Steinway & Sons concert grand pianos made in Hamburg, Germany: “Clara” (arrived Feb. 10, 2012; debut Feb. 11, 2012, Leif Ove Andsnes) and “Robert” (arrived Dec. 26, 2017; debut Jan. 21, 2018, Kirill Gerstein)
  • the appointment of Alan Morrison as organist-in-residence and establishment of the McGehee Family Organist Residency at Spivey Hall;
  • successful national and international tours of the Spivey Hall Children’s Choir under the artistic direction of Dr. Martha Shaw;
  • the production and presentation of Spivey Hall virtual concerts during the pandemic]

Dixon’s tenure saw the formation of the Spivey Hall Friends Council, which has played a critical role in sustaining the artistic excellence of Spivey Hall’s programming, especially in the aftermath of the 2008 economic downturn and the advent of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to achieving significant growth in private philanthropic support that now represents more than a third of its annual operating budget, Dixon secured Spivey Hall’s first major grants from the National Endowment for Arts, oversaw the development and implementation of its first five-year strategic plan, and collaborated with donors to create endowments to support Spivey Hall programming in perpetuity.

Robert and Clara (Spivey Hall)

Robert and Clara (Spivey Hall)

“It has been an immense privilege and pleasure for me to serve in this role,” Dixon said. “I am deeply grateful for the support that Dr. Hynes, the University, the Walter and Emilie Spivey Foundation, the Spivey Hall Friends, our subscribers, and other stakeholders have demonstrated for me, my Spivey Hall colleagues, and the mission of Spivey Hall. And I know many people share my hope that the extraordinary good that has resulted from Walter and Emilie Spivey’s dream will continue to be a source of great pride and valued service to Clayton State, metro-Atlanta, the State of Georgia, and music-lovers far beyond.”

Born in Rochester, New York, Dixon spent six years of his youth in Milan, Italy, where he fell in love with opera attending performances at La Scala. He later studied piano in the Eastman School of Music’s Preparatory Department and also played French horn. A 1982/83 Fellow of the League of American Orchestras’ Management Fellowship Program, he is a magna cum laude graduate of Dartmouth College with highest distinction in music, and earned an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, concentrating in non-profit management, marketing, and management policy.


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Prior to his posts at Spivey Hall, Dixon served as vice president of artistic operations at Santa Barbara’s Music Academy of the West. While living in New York City and California, he provided artistic and management consulting services to a variety of performing arts and service organizations, including Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and the League of American Orchestras. Earlier, he managed programming and festivals for the Minnesota Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Saint Louis Symphony, and the six professional orchestras of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, based in Sydney.

In July, in advance of Dixon’s departure, Spivey Hall will announce its 2021-22 season Spivey Series. Clayton State University will conduct a national search to name Dixon’s successor. ■


Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer for EarRelevant. He has been a music journalist for over 30 years, and a composer of music for much longer than that.

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