By Maria Saporta
The Woodruff Arts Center has implemented a major reorganization in its board — at the same time as it elected Larry Gellerstedt, CEO of Cousins Properties, as its new chair. He succeeds Phil Kent, CEO of Turner Broadcasting System.
The arts center used to be governed by an 80-member board that only met twice a year. Although there was an executive committee that was in charge to keep a closer eye on the center’s operations, the overall board still had the legal responsibilities on the decisions.
The larger board will remain. But now there is an 18 member governing board that will have the fiduciary responsibility to oversee the day-to-day operations of the center. The governing board will meet monthly.
“This does not diminish the importance of the Woodruff Arts Center board,” Gellerstedt said, adding that the larger board will continue to provide guidance and advice on the center’s overall strategy.
The Woodruff Arts Center also established a new 33-member Community Roundtable of Atlanta’s business, government and artistic communities.
The reason for the reorganization was to provide a clearer sense of responsibility over the center’s financial operations.
The arts center is made up of four divisions — the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High Museum of Art, the Alliance Theatre and Young Audiences. Each division has its own operating board, but the Woodruff Arts Center is in charge of the financial operations of all of them. The annual budget of the center (and its four divisions) totals $88 million.
For example, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra can’t declare bankruptcy, as have other symphonies around the country, because it is not its own legal entity.
As Gellerstedt put it, shortfalls in ASO’s budget could be met by selling a painting belonging to the High (which is not something that would ever be proposed).
But it was important that there be a governing board that had a tighter reign on the center’s operations.
When all the divisions were breaking even or operating at a surplus, it wasn’t an issue. But in recent years, the symphony has been losing millions of dollars every year. At different times, the Alliance also has had financial shortfalls. Each division is represented on the governing board.
Joe Bankoff, president of the Woodruff Arts Center, said the board started reviewing its governing operations when it undertook its strategic plan in 2008. A governance task force was set up about eight months ago, and this structure was proposed. The bylaws were changed, and the new organizational structure was approved.
“We are not devaluing the critical role that the larger group of trustees play,” Bankoff said. “The effort was to get them to appoint a smaller group to pay attention to the day-to day.”
As to the center’s four divisions, Bankoff said: “We are all one organization. We are all in the same boat, but we might have different sized paddles.”