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Doug Shipman named CEO of Woodruff Arts Center

By Maria Saporta
As published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on June 2, 2017

Doug Shipman will be the new president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, succeeding Virginia Hepner, who has held the post for the past five years.

Shipman, 44, is the CEO of BrightHouse — a global creative consultancy that is part of BCG (Boston Consulting Group). But Shipman is best known for the nine years he spent exploring the feasibility, developing and opening Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights. He left the center after its first full year in business.

Virginia Hepner Doug Shipman

Virginia Hepner and Doug Shipman at the Woodruff Arts Center (Photo by Maria Saporta)

“This is a unique moment in time,” Shipman said in an exclusive interview on May 30, while sitting next to Hepner, who will step down at the end of June. “There is a tremendous amount of momentum that Virginia has created.”

Shipman will begin his new role on July 18- -— heading the nation’s third-largest arts center, which attracts 1 million visitors a year and employs 400 people. The Woodruff Arts Center includes the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum of Art and the Alliance Theatre.

“This is a unique position,” Shipman explained. “It is a very large business that needs to be run well combined with being a cultural institution that has an enormous impact on the community. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts.”

Shipman said he was attracted to the position because it would allow him to run a large organization with a mission to nurture and enhance the region’s cultural offerings.

“There are very few positions that allow you to do both,” Shipman said. “The talent that’s been assembled — from the people running the various institutions to the artists — is amazing.”

The position is one of the more important civic roles in Atlanta, as evidenced by the compensation of the CEO. According to the center’s most recent documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service in 2015, Hepner’s compensation was $443,797, which includes the base pay and bonus.

Shipman readily admitted that he is not an artist, although he comes from a family of musicians. His father was a professional gospel quartet singer, and his brother was a pop musician in Austin.

“I approach this position as an active enabler,” Shipman said. “The first and most important job that’s done here every day is the art. Enabling that to happen in the best way is the primary purpose of the job.”

Hepner beamed as Shipman spoke.

“He totally gets it,” said Hepner, who retired from a banking career with Wachovia in 2005, when she took on a series of civic roles for then-Mayor Shirley Franklin and as interim head of several arts organizations before joining Woodruff in 2012. “I’ve always referred to the role as a way to capture synergies to fulfill the artistic vision of the leaders and the folks who gravitate to support this organization. The No. 1 job is to bring resources for the artists.”

Joe Goodwin, who conducted the search for the Woodruff Arts Center, said many good candidates were interviewed for the position. But Shipman kept rising to the top of the list.

“He’s smart, community-minded and someone who wanted to make an investment,” Goodwin said. “Everything lined up. He is just a quality person, and he will be a great asset to the Woodruff Arts Center and to the city.”

doug shipman virginia hepner

Doug Shipman and Virginia Hepner in front of the Woodruff Arts Center (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Business leader Doug Hertz, chairman of both the Woodruff Arts Center board and the search committee, said Shipman and Hepner have similar personalities in their ability to get along with different constituencies and foster collaboration.

“Doug will take a long-term strategic view of where the Arts Center needs to go, and he’ll have the ability to build on what Virginia has established — a strong financial and governance structure,” Hertz said. “Strategically he’ll be able to spend some time on where the Arts Center needs to be three to five years from now.”

And the center is in a much different place than where it was when Hepner was tapped for the role.

“When Virginia took over, we had to be so focused on the everyday problems that had been built up over decades due to a lack of appropriate governance,” Hertz said.

“Every time we opened a closet, another skeleton was falling out.”

With the help of her board, Hepner was able to use her banking and people skills to bring financial reform and transparency to the institution. But even more importantly, during her tenure, the center’s divisions began to work more closely together under the Woodruff umbrella rather than as independent entities that competed with each other.

“This job is extremely attractive because of the work that Virginia has done. She’s done a lot of the heavy lifting,” Shipman said. “It will be the fuel for what happens next. I think we can crack the age-old challenge we have — being a young artist and having to move out of Atlanta before being able to come back.”

Ironically, Hepner and Shipman are both natives of Arkansas, and they both chose to make Atlanta their home.

“We are both people who really care about Atlanta,” Hepner said.

“Passion matters more than pedigree in Atlanta,” Shipman said about the ability to make a difference in the city.

Shipman received his bachelor’s in economics and political science at Emory University; and then he received a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a Master of Public Policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, both in 2001.

That’s when Shipman returned to Atlanta to join Boston Consulting Group, and became a member of The Carter Center’s board of trustees and an advisory member of the theater group — Dad’s Garage. In both his roles at the Center for Civil and Human Rights and at BrightHouse, Shipman has worked closely with the creative individuals — which he sees as playing a more important role in Atlanta’s economy.

“I’m excited to bring that network of emerging artists into the conversation of how do we work together to create this ecosystem and being able to convene those conversations,” Shipman said. “We have the scale and the arts community to now create the next version of Atlanta when it comes to the arts.”

As much as he loved working at BrightHouse over the past two years — tripling the business and growing it to 55 employees, Shipman acknowledged that he “did miss being in the conversations of where Atlanta is headed and being at the table.”

Doug Shipman Virginia Hepner

Doug Shipman and Virginia Hepner before the official announcement he will be joining the Woodruff Arts Center as CEO (Photo by Maria Saporta)

A word of advice Hepner shared with Shipman was to pace himself. Because the Woodruff Arts Center has so many stakeholders and exceptional people and events, “it’s easy to work all the time.”

Shipman duly noted her advice, and then added: “There are certain jobs that take a lot of energy, and there are certain jobs that create energy in

as a leader. When it comes to stakeholders, you can say: ‘Gosh, look at all these people who want to help.’ ”

Hepner also said there’s an emerging recognition to the role arts and culture play in the economic vitality of the city. The annual corporate campaign has increased by 50 percent over the past five years. The arts are now viewed as an important asset when recruiting investment to the state.

“It’s not just the art,” Hepner said. “It’s how we are part of the whole fabric. It’s not just a ‘nice to have’. It’s how children learn empathy. It’s about education. We are 48th in SAT scores, and we are 48th in public funding for the arts. There is a correlation.”

The next period for the Woodruff Arts Center likely will address several issues — an enhanced symphony hall, a stronger link with the Arts Center MARTA Station, public funding for the arts, a cohesive relationship with the greater community of arts organizations and fostering the growth of Atlanta’s creative economy.

“Every day that goes by, I get more excited about Doug’s leadership and more bullish about the prospects for the Arts Center,” Hertz said. “Doug will be able to take the structure that Virginia has built and apply strategic principles to meet our goals for the future.”

The Woodruff Arts Center has a significant economic impact in the Atlanta community:

  • The Woodruff Arts Center is a core part of the Creative Industries economic sector in the state of Georgia, an industry with $62 billion in overall economic impact.
  • Woodruff visitors account for more than $50 million in spending on dining, parking and gas to visit The Woodruff Arts Center each year.
  • The Arts Center pays nearly $44 million in wages, benefits and payroll taxes to its employees, including both full-time and part-time/temporary staff, including many actors, musicians and other artists.
  • Approximately 500 actors, musicians, designers, costumers, etc. are employed for projects at the Arts Center.
  • Arts Center educators employ more than 200 teaching artists in their education programs.
  • The arts are important both for those who are looking to move to Georgia and in keeping people here.

56% say a vibrant arts scene was important to their decision to move to Georgia.

83% say a vibrant arts scene is important to them in their decision to stay in Georgia.

  • Economists at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce estimate that the arts have a “multiplier effect” of about 2.2. This means that art enterprises’ spending on supporting firms and people will ultimately generate around $2.20 for every additional $1.00 spent. That compares to a 1.8 multiplier for a typical business.

Source: Woodruff Arts Center

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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