Gary Peterson, a veteran Twin Cities arts administrator, has been named executive director of the Southern Theater, a performing-arts venue in Minneapolis.

Peterson, of Minneapolis, was executive director of James Sewell Ballet for 13 years, leaving there in 2008.

Susan Lach, board chair at the Southern, said Wednesday that Peterson "is going to help us soar above a terrible economic downturn with his expertise and enthusiasm."

He will take over in early January, occupying the post vacated in November by Patricia Speelman.

The Southern faces serious challenges. Speelman was hired in 2008 to replace Jeff Bartlett, who had run the Southern for many years. Bartlett's dismissal provoked an outburst of criticism that has subsided as the theater named different programmers for its dance, theater and new-music presentations. In 2006 the board acknowledged a deficit of $300,000 on its $1 million annual budget. That debt has been whittled down, but not erased, Lach said.

Peterson, a graduate of the University of Minnesota, also has been managing director of Zorongo Flamenco and Zenon dance companies. Since leaving Sewell Ballet, Peterson has been a consultant on the Shubert Center project in downtown Minneapolis.

"The times call for optimism in the face of adversity," Peterson said, "and a detailed, step-by-step approach to problem-solving. That's what artists do best." He said he will look at finding efficiencies, establishing joint ventures and raising money for the Southern while staying true to its mission.

His dance experience should serve him well, as the Southern presents many Twin Cities dance events. In recent years the theater has added more contemporary classical music and theater to its calendar.

Peterson, who was a host for many years on the "Fresh Fruit" show on KFAI radio, has a local arts-related blog at Minne

Claude Peck • 612-673-7977