Leadership changes boost hopes

Attractions and arts groups have to be simultaneously enterprising and cautious even in good times. The faltering economy has put these community assets at risk, if not at death's door.

But two local treasures, the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and Exploration Place, are defying the uncertainty and undergoing defining leadership changes that boost expectations for the future. Both deserve congratulations for jobs well done and best wishes for the transitions under way.

Last weekend Wichita Symphony audiences heard the sixth music director in the orchestra's seven decades, Andrew Sewell, end his 10-season tenure on some grand notes — Brahms' expansive "A German Requiem," abetted by the powerful sound of the combined WSO Chorus and Friends University Singing Quakers. Sewell, who got a warm send-off, had become a trusted guide for concertgoers and musicians alike, trying new things while respecting the repertoire on which the Wichita Symphony was built.

But anticipation is high for his successor, Daniel Hege, also music director of the Syracuse (N.Y.) Symphony, to begin his tenure in October. And there's already a special familiarity with Hege, a Bethel College graduate who led the Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra years ago and has guest-conducted in Wichita several times. He's a gifted, engaging conductor who should be a perfect fit for the orchestra and community.

This week Exploration Place named its new president, Janice Luth, as it prepared for this weekend's festivities celebrating the start of its second decade as a community hub of wonder and fun. Luth replaces Alberto Meloni, who resigned last May.

During a first decade that saw two recessions, the iconic $62 million science and discovery museum on the Arkansas River faced down a $10.5 million shortfall and tried to adapt accordingly in its fundraising, exhibitions and other programming. It likely will face more challenges in the future, particularly if Sedgwick County reduces its financial support or state budget cuts lead to fewer school field trips.

But Exploration Place looks to be in good hands with its committed board and new president, who brings 30-plus years of experience with history, science and children's museums. Having had more than 2 million visitors since 2000, Exploration Place already has a lasting bond with the community. Now it has an accomplished new president to build on that relationship.

Here's hoping these two organizations' new leaders further their standout roles in the community, as they lead more Wichita-area residents to check them out and support what they do. In both cases, there's no imagining Wichita without them.