Christopher Clinton Conway, JD '96
Executive Director, The Joffrey Ballet
When Christopher Clinton Conway, JD ’96, entered Washington University School of Law, he never intended to take a traditional path. That may be because he was raised in a family that was committed to the visual and performing arts.
Now, as executive director of the prestigious Joffrey Ballet headquartered in Chicago, Conway oversees all aspects of the company—seeking out new talent, fundraising, marketing, and logo merchandise development and sales.
“My passion and background of the arts, plus the support of a law degree, were the driving forces to my success,” Conway says. The combination helped him build a career he loves.
“The business of an arts organization is very much a business. I am overseeing funding, marketing, reviewing contracts, and working with unions, all while maintaining a reputable artistic dance company,” he adds. “To me, it is the best combination imaginable.”
Through dance, Conway hopes to promote Chicago and the arts internationally, including his own work with art museums and ballets around the country and in Mexico.
“The Joffrey travels to all 50 states and more than 60 countries,” he says. “Weekly, I am in New York or London or Los Angeles or Rio de Janeiro.” The schedule includes a recent performance of The Joffrey at the Touhill Performing Arts Center in St. Louis.
Conway is also proud of the work the ballet does in the local community. “We aim to develop life skills through creative and educational programming while strengthening ties within Chicago’s communities,” Conway says. “Our programs inspire a greater appreciation for dance while introducing participants to the benefits this art form offers.”
The longest-standing Joffrey program is the Middle School Dance Clubs (MSDC). Participants attend three Joffrey performances and work with Joffrey teaching artists to create original dances. MSDC culminates with two major performances.
“Annually, more than 4,700 Chicago youths take part in MSDC, and thousands more attend Joffrey performances associated with the program,” Conway says.
Other community programs focus on American square dancing, the Nutcracker ballet, and African and Latin dance. The Exelon Strobel Step-Up Program offers a rigorous scholarship opportunity to promising high school students who want to develop their dance skills and showcase their talents.
Interestingly, it was not Conway’s desire to pursue philanthropy and arts management that initially led him to law school, but rather his position at the Sotheby’s auction house in Chicago. “Their business is a very relationship-based environment, which included interaction with estate planning attorneys; this is where I became very drawn to that area of law,” he says.
Conway credits his legal education with helping him along his path. “My education from Washington University gave me a succinct writing style, contract review skills, and the general fearlessness that comes from being an attorney,” he says.
Conway also honed his leadership ability when he co-founded the gay and lesbian student group at the law school, including his ability to cultivate a broad base of support. “During an initial planning meeting, the first two people to arrive were Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth and his wife, Elizabeth Gray Danforth,” he says.
After graduation, Conway served as senior associate director and general counsel for the Carter Center of Emory University. He worked closely with President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, on their post-presidential initiatives relating to peace and health.
Conway then became director of development at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. From there, he went to Joffrey first as vice president for development and then executive director. In addition, he advocates for the arts and consults with several groups, including Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia; Edward Villella’s Miami City Ballet; and Museo de Arte y Cultura Popular in Colima, Mexico.
For more information on The Joffrey Ballet and about Christopher Clinton Conway visit joffrey.com.