Take a Walk on the
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his flair for artistic daring-do, David Sefton plans to elevate
UCLA Performing Arts to new heights of creative innovation.
By Amy Ko
photographer: Amanda Friedman
know it's going to be an interesting ride when the new director
of UCLA Performing Arts offers up an eclectic rocker like Elvis
Costello as a job reference. But that's exactly what David Sefton
did when he interviewed for the job. And from all appearances, an
interesting ride is just what the university intends with its hiring
of the irrepressible British culture savant.
is a journey we're all going on," declares Sefton, who took over
the reins in October, in his unmistakably English accent. "Hopefully
I'll take my audience with me!"
its creation in 1937 as one of the first major cultural institutions
in Los Angeles, the performing-arts center has built a national
reputation with its bold, avant-garde and versatile programming.
But to the Liverpool-born Sefton, 37, who single-handedly transformed
London's South Bank Centre/Royal Festival Hall from a staid classical
music hall to a hip and happening concert and festival venue, UCLA's
program may have felt more mild than wild.
he was first approached to apply for the position vacated by Michael
Blachly, who left in July to take over the performing-arts program
at the University of Florida at Gainesville, Sefton dismissed it
as headhunters randomly pulling names from a hat. But that hardly
was the case; agents and others with whom he'd worked in New York
had recommended Sefton for the job.
Sefton wasn't convinced. "I came out to the first interview with
the attitude of, 'Well, I'll get a trip to L.A. Let's go for a laugh.'
I was really thinking they were going to want somebody much more
formal than me because the program, although strong, is quite traditional
compared to what I've done in the past. It seemed a long reach."
Sefton, who began his career in the early '80s as a journalist covering
the Liverpool music scene, underestimated UCLA. He soon was called
back for a second interview. The timing, however, was less than
perfect. It was June, the month when Meltdown, a two-week music
extravaganza launched by Sefton in 1993 and programmed each year
entirely by one guest artist, hits London. The festival has since
become the flagship for the Royal Festival Hall, where he served
as head of contemporary culture, and for Sefton's career, which
also included stints promoting, acting, directing and doing theater
and dance work.