Jonelle Procope, president and chief executive of Harlem cultural hub the Apollo Theater, will step down from her post next June, the theater announced on Tuesday.
“Jonelle has led the Apollo through an unparalleled period of growth, forged partnerships globally, strengthened the Apollo’s finances, broadened a uniquely diverse audience, and navigated the institution through a challenging pandemic,” board chairman Charles E. Phillips said in a statement.
“It's been 20 years, and I naturally began to think about the right time for me to step down,” Procope told Gothamist. “And I feel the Apollo is in a very strong position after continued growth and achievements. I think all the pieces are in place for the future.”
Procope joined the Apollo board in 1999, and became president and chief executive in 2003. Over nearly 20 years, she transformed the theater into a premier performance venue for Black musicians, comedians and even a famous Double Dutch competition. Procope’s last day will be at the end of June 2023.
As her time overseeing operations comes to an end, Procope said it isn’t simply one single accomplishment she’s most proud of, but rather the totality of where the Apollo is situated in the cultural ecosystem today, compared to when she first started.
“We had a storied history, but the theater had really fallen into disrepair, and didn't have a clear and strong vision for moving forward,” Procope recalled. “So I focused with the board and a wonderful team of people on the crucial role the Apollo had to play in being a center for Black creativity, a civic thought leader, and a convener for public discourse through the arts.”
Along with the announcement of Procope’s departure, the venue detailed what it describes as a "full-scale renovation and upgrade," due to start around spring of 2024. A press release details plans to update the 108-year-old building’s exterior, adding an expanded lobby, a new bar and cafe, and a restored orchestra pit, among other renovations and improvements.
A committee of the Apollo Theater’s board of directors will begin a search for Procope’s successor this fall.
“Whomever it is, they have to have a love of culture and the arts, and a deep appreciation for the importance of African American institutions and their sustainability, and specifically an understanding of the legacy of the Apollo and its importance,” Procope said. “I think that the leadership of iconic African American institutions calls for a different kind of passion and commitment.”