Bob Weiss

Bob Weis, Former President of Walt Disney Imagineering, To Be Honored By Ryman Arts

The 4th annual Marty & Leah Sklar Creative Visionary Award will be presented to Bob Weis, a philanthropist, creative leader, and longtime champion of Ryman Arts at Celebration of the Arts. The Sklar Creative Visionary Award is presented annually by Ryman Arts to an individual whose distinctive contribution to the creative community and whose leadership in the art world has made a significant impact. Bob Weis, whose impact on the community has been tremendous, truly exemplifies this award. Bob spent 35 years as an Imagineer, including 6 years as President, and a year as Imagineering Global Ambassador and currently leads Global Entertainment at Gensler.

The Marty & Leah Sklar Creative Visionary Award is presented annually to an individual of singular creative vision and leadership who has made a distinctive contribution to the creative community: illuminating, inspiring, and expanding the impact, relevance and reach of the arts through their work and creative vision. Created in 2018, it is named for two visionaries who were co-founders of Ryman Arts. Leah Sklar has been active in community and educational initiatives throughout her life, including a key role in the development of Ryman Arts’ mission and program. Marty Sklar was the legendary President of Walt Disney Imagineering, leading the creation of Disney theme parks around the world. Previous honorees of this award include Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios, Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli, and Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter.

In a post on the Walt Disney Imagineering Instagram account, they shared that throughout his tenure at Disney, Bob led over 200 projects globally, leaving an indelible mark on the themed entertainment industry. His unwavering dedication to Ryman Arts, spanning rom encounters with Herbert D. Ryman to active support in fundraisers, underscores his commitment to cultivating the talents of future artists.

“We can think of no other individual who encapsulates the lifelong dedication to inspiring others through leadership and who is actively paving a way for future generations to be creative visionaries for our community. Bob is the ideal person to receive the 4th annual Sklar Creative Visionary Award.” – David A. Price, Ryman Arts Board President.

Bob’s career at Disney started as work was ramping up on two major projects: EPCOT at Walt Disney World in Florida and Tokyo Disneyland. EPCOT was by far the bigger priority — it had a large team at its headquarters in Glendale, California, and the entire company was putting various resources behind it. The Tokyo group was much smaller, because most of the work was going to be done in Japan. As a young person who hadn’t really traveled much, Weis liked the idea of going to a far-off place like Tokyo and working with a tight group of senior Imagineers as well as a bunch of kids fresh out of school like him.

Weis took on the design and artistic disciplines as a coordinator, which involved managing the process of translating the design intentions for their collaborator, Oriental Land Company (OLC). Weis learned pretty much everything — how to build steam trains, how to paint ride vehicles and signs, and even figuring out the architectural ornamentation of the castle. This opportunity gave him a great understanding of how the Company worked and how the different groups supported each other.

Another thing he learned that stuck with him for his entire career was the importance of being generous with collaborators abroad. The Japanese have a rich, storied culture, and it was critical for Imagineers and others to appreciate that and work closely with local vendors and craftspeople. OLC had assembled some incredible talents who had never done something like this before in Japan. The OLC Team really got to know and trust the Disney Team, which was key to making this project work. When Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983 the audience embraced it as their own and it very quickly became a national landmark.

Years later, Bob joined the Tokyo team again when they offered Oriental Land Company something that would complement the original park while still being bold and different. They started fixating on the “land” part of “Disneyland” and then its natural counterpart — water. That led Imagineers to come up with a park that would be linked by various ports of call around the world, which became the concept for Tokyo DisneySea. Imagineering put together a pitch and took it to OLC, and it was exactly what they were looking for.

Weis was also involved in the transformation of Disney California Adventure. The original park had not resonated with audiences as well as they hoped, so Bob was asked to lead the creative aspects of an expansive reimagination plan. When they spoke to guests to understand where Disney had missed the mark, they discovered a recurring theme: there was an intangible “something” that guests got in our other parks that they just weren’t feeling at this one. One of the primary goals was infusing the park with that elusive thing called “Disney magic.”

Like everything done at Imagineering, they started with a story. The entrance to the Park was converted into the entry sequence now known as Buena Vista Street, which is reminiscent of the Los Angeles Walt would have known in the 1920s and ’30s. In Cars Land and a Little Mermaid attraction to immerse guests in more Disney storytelling. The nighttime spectacular “World of Color” opened, and guests had incentive to stay into the evening hours. 1,200 trees were planted, and elements were taken out that felt like guests could be in any sort of non-Disney amusement park.

Little by little, changes were made all across the park — and by the time the project was done, Disney California Adventure had really come into its own. It’s now one of our most popular destinations and continues to grow through recent enhancements that include Avengers Campus and Pixar Pier, along with additional plans for the future.

One final project before being named President of Walt Disney Imagineering was working on Shanghai Disney Resort. China is a vibrant place with a dynamic culture, and Imagineers knew they couldn’t just bring Disney over as-is. Bob Iger coined a term that perfectly summed up their mission — “authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese” — which led Imagineering to diversify their teams and include local writers, artists, craftspeople, fabricators and many others. They had a huge impact on the park and guided us on everything from color theory to the appropriate use of language. The premiere of Shanghai Disneyland was a beautiful moment. It had been an enormous project: seven square kilometers of property with the theme park, two hotels, Disneytown, subway lines, lakes and boats. On opening day, you saw the culmination of the efforts of those who made it go from muddy fields to a fully realized, magical place. And then you see the public come in with such a sense of awe and wonder — it’s very emotional to stand there and watch that.

Bob Weis now leads Global Entertainment for Gensler. As former President of Walt Disney Imagineering, Bob brings more than 30 years of leadership creating, designing, and developing some of Disney’s most iconic projects around the globe. His experience in pioneering largescale groundbreaking and story-driven experiences further expands Gensler’s ability to drive design innovation that meaningfully shapes the human experience. In leading Entertainment at Gensler, Bob collaborates with the firm’s global leaders to envision and bring to life unique experiences for clients spanning across Gensler’s 33 practice areas, including entertainment, lifestyle, hospitality, retail, sport, mixed-use, cultural institutions, wellness, and workplace. Bob has been recognized with numerous industry accolades and awards and remains closely connected to his Disney roots. Bob is the recipient of multiple honors from the Themed Park Association, including Best New Theme Park for Shanghai Disney Resort and the Buzz Price Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been awarded an honorary Ph.D. from Cal Poly School of Environmental Design, where he graduated with a degree in Architecture.

Ryman Arts, a Los Angeles-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, has engaged over 38,000 youth from diverse communities around Southern California since 1990 through its core studio art program and outreach activities, helping them prepare for a creative life through college and beyond. Many alumni currently work in positions in the creative and arts field. The Sklar Creative Visionary Award will be presented at the Celebration of the Arts on Thursday, April 4, 2024, 5:30 – 9 PM. Grand Central Air Terminal, 1310 Air Way, Glendale, CA.

Tickets will be available to the public and will go on sale, February 29, 2024. This event will be an affair of creativity and a celebration of the artistic journey, inviting guests to honor and celebrate our Visionary Award recipient, Bob Weis, while perusing the artwork of artists in our community. All proceeds from the evening will benefit Ryman Arts.

Ryman Arts transforms lives by creating access and opportunity for a diverse community of young artists through rigorous education in fundamental art skills and mentoring – at no cost to the students. Almost all graduates go to college, many go on to work in creative industries, and all are poised for personal success. A nationally recognized non-profit organization, Ryman Arts was founded in 1990 to honor the legacy of legendary Disney artist Herbert D. Ryman. Their mission is to reach students with the greatest need to ensure all young artist reach their full potential. Ryman Arts is a 501(c)(3). For more details about Ryman Arts or the 2024 Celebration of the Arts, visit: