President & CEO
Houston Arts Alliance
A native of Portland, Oregon, James Nelson has spent nearly his entire career in the dance world. Beginning as a professional dancer, Mr. Nelson has served for nearly two decades as an administrative leader of Houston Ballet, most recently as executive director since February 2012.
Mr. Nelson received his professional dance training from Houston Ballet Academy from 1983-1986. As a professional ballet dancer, Mr. Nelson performed a wide range of featured roles with the Cincinnati Ballet from 1986-1990, Houston Ballet from 1990-1996 and finally at Ballet de Santiago, in Santiago, Chile, where he ended his 11-year performing career in 1997. After retiring from his performing career, Mr. Nelson was named general manager of Houston Ballet in August 2000. In 2005, Mr. Nelson was selected for and attended the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Executive Program for Non-Profit Leaders.
Now in his eighth year as the company’s chief executive, Mr. Nelson has led Houston Ballet through a period of transformational growth and acclaim. During his tenure, Mr. Nelson has pursued an aggressive initiative of building large-scale, full-length ballets and expanding Houston Ballet's international exposure. Since 2012, the company has developed lavish new productions of Aladdin (2014), Romeo and Juliet (2015), Giselle (2016), The Tempest (2017), Sylvia (2019) and Stanton Welch’s celebrated $5 million production of The Nutcracker, which premiered in 2016. During this period, Houston Ballet made its first-ever appearances in Paris (2013), Melbourne (2016) and Dubai (2018).
During Mr. Nelson's tenure as executive director, Houston Ballet's revenues have grown from $19.2 million to $34.5 million in the most recent fiscal year, and Houston Ballet Foundation’s endowment has grown from $52.9 million to over $80 million, as of July 31, 2019.
Under Mr. Nelson's leadership, Houston Ballet has developed a partnership with Houston Methodist that both provides health and wellness services to the dancers and staff and secures presenting sponsorship of The Nutcracker. In addition, Mr. Nelson initiated the development of the "Dance for Parkinson's" program in partnership with Houston Area Parkinson's Society, for which Houston Ballet received the 2009 Roy H. Cullen Quality of Life Award for this initiative.
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy of Houston Ballet
Bio: Houston Ballet