Doug Shipman to leave Woodruff Arts Center, Hala Moddelmog to step in as interim CEODoug Shipman and Virginia Hepner in front of the Woodruff Arts Center in 2017 when he was named as its new CEO (Photo by Maria Saporta)
By Maria Saporta
In a surprise announcement, the Woodruff Arts Center on Thursday said its current president and CEO – Doug Shipman – will be stepping down on Aug. 31 after three years in the role.
Hala Moddelmog, who recently retired as president and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, will take over as interim CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center on Sept. 1. She will continue to serve the multi-faceted cultural institution until a permanent CEO has been selected after a national search.
The Woodruff Arts Center is home to the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the High Museum of Art.
During his tenure, Shipman, 47, oversaw the successful rebuild and reopening of the Alliance Theatre Coca-Cola Stage, the re-installation of the High Museum of Art’s permanent collection, and the diversification and expansion of the patron base across the entire Arts Center. He also helped reorganize the Center’s operating model.
“Over the past three years, I’ve been a small part of progress I’m proud to see – inclusive exhibitions, career progressions, formation of new arts organizations, the growth of incredible artists and the engagement of millions of diverse patrons whose lives have been changed, enriched and challenged by their experiences,” Shipman wrote in an Instagram post on Thursday.
Shipman explained that he had told the Center’s governing board in February that he would be leaving some time in 2020.
“I truly appreciate the chance to serve in this unique role, and I don’t take the decision to depart lightly,” Shipman wrote. “But I’m confident that the Arts Center will navigate the choppy waters of COVID successfully given the good people and committed stakeholders involved across the organization.”
Doug Hertz, who recently stepped back in to serve as chairman of the Woodruff Arts Center board, said in a statement the organization is “sorry to see Doug leave” the Center after three years.
“We respect his decision and wish him the best in the next phase of his career,” Hertz said. “We are incredibly fortunate to have a respected executive like Hala stepping into the CEO role. The entire community has witnessed Hala’s exceptional leadership leading the Atlanta Metro Chamber over the last six years. We look forward to Hala bringing those skills to the Arts Center as we continue to navigate the current realities of COVID-19.”
A big question that Shipman did not fully answer in the post was what he will do next. Before becoming CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center, Shipman helped develop Atlanta’s National Center for Civil and Human Rights, and he served as its inaugural CEO.
“As I’ve moved in our community and watched political, social and civic conversations at the local, state and national levels, I find myself coming back to one thought,” he wrote. “This moment is the seminal moment of my lifetime – the moment that will define how my generation is judged and how my children and grandchildren will live. As a student of the modern American Civil Rights movement, I deeply feel this is the equivalent moment I will live through.”
Shipman went on to say that he is “compelled to find ways to be directly involved in addressing injustices of the past and present” and that he would seek to find ways to “catalyze” the public sector, the nonprofit community and private business to address the myriad of issues facing Atlanta.
“I do not know exactly what pathway I will take, and I will need friends to help me navigate the road ahead, but I know that in the coming days, I want to be working daily and directly on the issues of social justice and community impact,” Shipman concluded. “I love Atlanta, and I’m excited to find ways to make it a more perfect place, especially for those left behind for far too long.”
In a telephone interview, Moddelmog said she was “very pleased to be taking on this role on an interim basis,” but she insisted that she did not want to be a candidate for the permanent position.
“I love the Woodruff Arts Center,” Moddelmog said. “It’s really a treasure for the city, the region and the entire state. I’m happy to serve in an interim role. But I’m not looking for a permanent role.”
Moddelmog is no stranger to the Center. She has served as a Woodruff trustee, a governing board member and as co-chair of the Alliance Theatre board. In the interview, Moddelmog said she has been meeting with both Shipman and Hertz to ensure a smooth transition.
“We will be working hand-in-hand,” Moddelmog said. “I’m certainly committed to make sure the arts partners are able to continue doing their art through the COVID pandemic.”
She acknowledged that it is difficult time for the arts institutions – especially the Alliance Theatre and the Atlanta Symphony – because their patrons can come enjoy their performances in person.
“I definitely want to be sure we get the work done,” Moddelmog said, adding that she is “willing to see it through” until a successor is identified. “It’s important to do the right thing. We just have to treasure what we’ve got.”
The Woodruff Arts Center is the third largest arts center in the United States. During normal times, more than 800,000 patrons visit Woodruff annually to enjoy the theatre, music and exhibitions. Woodruff Arts Center is also the largest arts educator in the state of Georgia serving more than 200,000 students each year.