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Louis K. Fleming, Theatre and Arts Management Consultant, is Dead at 89

Louis K. Fleming

Louis K. Fleming, a pioneering theatre and arts management consultant, died on December 24 at a hospital in the UK. He was 89. Fleming was president of Theatre Projects Consultants Inc. in New York from 1982-1990 and served as a director of Theatre Projects International from 1988 to 2006. He played a leading role in establishing Theatre Projects as a predominant player in the theatre consulting field in America.

After service in the Canadian Navy, Fleming began his career in 1946 as a theatre technician for Moral Re-Armament Productions in New York. He became the technical director and lighting designer of MRA in 1950, and travelled extensively around the world before becoming based at the Westminster Theatre in London, where he was executive director from 1965 to 1975. In 1975, he returned to Canada as a consultant to the Ontario Ministry of Culture, becoming a freelance theatre consultant in 1979. He was managing director of the recently established Artec Consultants in New York from 1979-1982. In 1982, Richard Pilbrow and TPC Inc. president Wally Russell invited him to become managing director of Theatre Projects, which was expanding into the US.

"Theatre Projects Inc. began in New York in 1965, principally to service our activities as lighting and projection consultants on Broadway," recalls Pilbrow. "By the early 1980s it became clear that there was a role for our theatre design consulting activities in North America, because of our rediscovery of the virtues of intimate three-dimensional theatre forms that were then little understood. We won such prestigious contracts as the Portland, Oregon and Calgary, Alberta Performing Arts Centers and it became obvious that we needed a full-time American presence. I first turned to two friends, Wally Russell and New York designer Eldon Elder. Wally became our president and in turn engaged Lou Fleming to open up work on new projects that needed feasibility evaluation. Lou was an always urbane, consummate diplomat, and a real gentleman. He excelled in the preparation of proposals for consulting services and, through gaining the trust of clients, delivered outstanding studies to establish the viability of a performing arts project. He was a wise counselor and created an atmosphere of confidence among civic, business, and arts leaders. A man of exceptional distinction."

Fleming recruited Robert Long (also from Artec), Steve Wolff, and, subsequently, Duncan Webb to TPC, who all made major contributions before going on to distinguished careers under their own banners with, respectively, Theatre Consultants Collaborative, AMS Management Consultants, and Webb Management Consultants.

His colleagues remember that Fleming would often counsel, "We may work in the arts, but it is really about politics and economics." He always advised patience: "It takes a long time for something to happen suddenly," and prudence: "Don't use the word 'very' unless you really mean it."

Fleming helped TPC gain such projects as the Blumenthal Center in Charlotte, North Carolina; Dallas Center for the Performing Arts; Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles; and other projects in Tampa and Cincinnati. David Staples, of Theatre Projects, remembers of Dallas: "The inner city was decaying but the city leadership determined to halt the decline with a number of initiatives including the 55-acre Dallas Arts District. Theatre Projects was appointed to conduct a feasibility study which recommended the construction of a number of new theatres and an opera house. We were summoned to Dallas to present our recommendations to City Council and Lou decided I should make the presentation. Over breakfast, I realized Lou (whom we nicknamed 'the Silver Fox') had deftly put me in the firing line as we were recommending the construction of over one third of a billion dollars of arts buildings (in 1985 that was a lot of money)."

Fleming retired in 1990 and returned to live in the UK, where he remained active as an assessor for the Lottery Fund of the Arts Council of Great Britain, playing a key role on such projects as the Lowry Centre, Salford. Staples recalls, "When we arrived in Salford, it was the most disadvantaged municipality in the UK, on almost any measure -- poverty, health, education, crime, etc. The council was determined to regenerate the docklands with a cultural center at its heart. Today, 15 years after opening it is acknowledged as the most successful arts led regeneration project in Europe if not the world."

Fleming's association with Theatre Projects continued and he played an important role in securing the Den Norske Opera project in Oslo. "The Oslo Opera House is one of the new generation of European opera houses and probably the most iconic arts building since the Sydney Opera House," Staples says. "Our involvement happened because Lou had become friends with Norwegian Chris Borchgrevink in Moral Re-Armament. Chris introduced us to the key individuals involved, which led to an over ten year involvement in the planning, design, and construction of this amazing building."

"I first worked with Lou for two years at Artec," Long says. "He left and joined TPC. Lou invited me to join him at TPC in September, 1982. Our first office, in Eldon Elder's studio on West 67th Street, was so small that it had room for only two people. Lou shared it with our wonderful assistant, Michele LaRue, in the morning and with me in the afternoon. We helped to launch TPC in the US with a handful of Kodak slides and the mystique of the courtyard theatre. Lou could write a report, assemble a design team, and charm a client better than anyone that I have ever known. He had a wonderful, sideways smile, and could devour a large slice of Texas Mud Pie all on his own! Lou had an intuitive approach to his work and spoke of his 'green thumb' when it came to proposals, contracts, and fees. I learned so much from Lou."

LaRue adds: "Lou was an appreciative, perceptive mentor, he trusted this actress-writer to invent and edit the Theatre Projects Bulletin and to support him in our performing arts surveys. He became a dearly loved friend. He threw himself into proposal writing -- it was half high-stakes competition, half challenging puzzle. He joked that proposals were won by bulk: Thrown down the stairs, the heaviest fell farthest and its authors got the job. He loved winning -- his exultation inevitably followed by a boisterous, wry, 'Now we have to do the work!'"

Fleming was a member of the Institute of Directors in London, the Royal Society of Arts, the International Society of Performing Arts Managers, and the Institute of Management Consultants in London.

Fleming was born in London on April 5, 1925, the son of Austin Lloyd and Helen Hyde. He was educated at Appleby, then Lakefield Colleges, followed by Jervis College, Ontario in 1944. In 1952, he married Valerie Ann Exton, who died in 2008. He is survived by their daughter, Elaine Leslie Fleming Fish and grandchildren, Kristina and Danni, his second wife Anita, and his twin brother Bob of Kingston Ontario.

(6 January 2015)

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