Cheryl Hickman is the General and Artistic Director of Opera on the Avalon (Newfoundland), a company she founded in 2009. She has been the Artistic Director since its inception and took on the role of General Director in 2014. She established OOTA’s Creation Investment Fund, which resulted in Atlantic Canada’s first grand opera commission, that helped OOTA to win numerous awards, including BMO/ Arts NL Artist of the year in 2017.
Her tenure at OOTA has seen critical acclaim for her bold and challenging programming, particularly in terms of her approach to turning history into art as part of a dialogue about the relevance of opera in today’s society. OOTA’s commissions such as John Estacio and Robert Chafe’s Ours, Kathleen Allen’s The Danger Tree, and Dean Burry and Yvette Nolan’s upcoming Shanawdithit are demonstrating the capacity for commissioned works to bring new audiences to the opera house. She has successfully made the case that traditional operas should also be a source of contemporary excitement and relevance for the people of her region as well as the country.
As both a performer and an administrator she has consistently championed women artists by establishing professional mentorships and development opportunities for female conductors, composers, librettists, directors, production staff, and administrators. She has created local programming that has resulted in employment partnerships with the Government of Newfoundland and Labradors’s Job Creation Partnership Program, ensuring the presence, development and participation of regional artists and artisans.
Hickman has also been responsible for establishing Eastern Canada’s only comprehensive summer professional training program for Emerging Artists from around the world, and mounts Atlantic Canada’s only summer opera festival held every year in May and June which is sponsored in part by RBC’s emerging artists fund. During her tenure as Artistic and General Director, OOTA has increased its operating budget by 2100%, achieving 9 consecutive surplus seasons, and performing to audiences at more than 85% capacity. This has involved cultivating donors to support productions not previously performed within the region, such as Dead Man Walking, The Brothers Grimm and The Turn of the Screw. At OOTA she has developed and strengthened the points of connection between the performing arts and civic impact, including the major public art installation Garden of Tears, funded by RBC and the Cahill Group, and supported by Canadian Heritage, with patronage and participation by His Excellency, The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada. These civic impact initiatives have also developed new areas for private and public partnerships with stakeholders throughout the region.
In 2017 Hickman was appointed to the Canada Council for the Arts. She has been Chair of the Board for Opera.ca since 2015, having previously served as Vice Chair. She was appointed to the City of St. John’s Arts Advisory Board in 2015. Most significantly, in the past seven years she has led successful negotiations with provincial and federal governments and agencies to secure significant investment towards increasing access to the arts. This funding has enabled OOTA to offer inclusive, multidisciplinary performances that are accessible to audiences in rural areas, Indigenous people, youth, minority-language communities, new arrivals and people with disabilities.
Hickman studied Music and Opera at the University of Toronto (1988-95) followed by a Masters of Music (Honours) at The Juilliard School (1995-97). She was awarded a placement as a young artist at the Juilliard Opera Centre, before returning home to Canada as a member of the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble.
Hickman’s early career began as a soprano performing to critical acclaim with some of the foremost operatic companies throughout North America and Europe including New York City Opera, Vancouver Opera, Calgary Opera, Pacific Opera Victoria, Manitoba Opera, Canadian Opera Company, Florida Grand Opera and Opera Français. Hickman has also been the recipient of many awards and prizes, including the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCollum Prize, the Sullivan Foundation Grant, the George London Foundation Kirsten Flagstad Award, and the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Throughout her career, Hickman has been active in many professional associations and is in demand as a lecturer, clinician, and teacher. She has been an adjudicator, assessor and board member for numerous organizations throughout Atlantic Canada. An active member in her community, Hickman is an advisor for Business and the Arts NL, and an Honorary Patron of the Atlantic Boy Choir.