By Maria Saporta
Friday, April 13, 2012
As a young banker in the mid-1970s, Beauchamp Carr quit his job at C&S Bank so he could volunteer full time to help save the Fox Theatre, then slated for demolition.
After the successful “Save the Fox” campaign, Carr in 1977 joined the Woodruff Arts Center (then known as the Atlanta Arts Alliance) as the head of fundraising and development.
Larry Gellerstedt, then-CEO of Beers Construction, happened to be the chairman of the alliance and offered Carr the job along with the institution’s then-president, Charlie Yates.
Now, 35 years later, Carr is preparing in early June to retire as the Woodruff Arts Center executive vice president. Ironically, the current chairman of the Woodruff Arts Center board is Larry Gellerstedt III, son of the person who hired Carr in the first place.
That is only one of the bookends of Carr’s career. Once he retires, Carr intends to step up his involvement with Atlanta Landmarks — the institution behind saving and preserving the Fox — an organization that he has supported for more than three decades.
In short, Carr has had a front seat on the changing profile of Atlanta corporate and cultural leadership since the 1970s.
In his role at Woodruff, Carr has been responsible for the annual unrestricted corporate campaign — and it is estimated that he has helped raise $177 million for the center since 1977 and worked with more than a thousand volunteers and patrons who have contributed to the Woodruff Arts Center.
Back in 1977, the campaign raised $654,000. Many of the top donors in that era have totally left the scene — Southern Bell/BellSouth, Sears, Rich’s, Arthur Andersen, and several banks that have been acquired by out-of-state financial institutions.
But Carr quickly adds that other corporations have filled the voids of those former donors — The Home Depot Inc., United Parcel Service Inc., Turner Broadcasting System Inc. — to name a few.
“Some people who have been in a job for 35 years bemoan change,” said Ann Curry, owner of Coxe, Curry & Associates, a fundraising firm that has worked on the Woodruff campaign for decades. “Not Beauchamp. He welcomes change.”
Carr said that during his time at Woodruff he has witnessed the center’s cultural division reach national and international stature — even being able to pinpoint the defining moments for the top three entities.
For the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the defining moment was 1978. The ASO became the first American orchestra to make a digital recording intended for commercial release when it played Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird suite. The ASO has gone on to win more than two dozen Grammy awards for its recordings.
For the High Museum of Art, the defining moment was when it commissioned renowned architect Richard Meier to design a stand-alone museum, which opened in 1983 — a building that attracted national and international attention.
And for the Alliance Theatre, Carr said it made a major statement in national theatrical circles when it hired Kenny Leon as its artistic director in 1990, a position he held until 2001.
“When I started, we lacked a sense of what we have now,” said Carr, who added that “the idea that each division would go on to achieve national stature” was only a goal. “Now we are truly world-class in what we offer and what we produce, and that’s not just chamber of commerce hype.”
Although much of Atlanta’s corporate profile has changed over the decades, Carr said that two of the center’s top annual donors (giving $500,000 a year to the corporate campaign) — The Coca-Cola Co. and Georgia Power Co. — have been there from the beginning. (UPS also has become a $500,000 annual donor.)
“It was a fairly genteel Southern town,” Carr said of the Atlanta in the 1960s and 1970s. “There’s nothing that defines Atlanta’s spirit better than the way we handled desegregation.”
Today, the annual Woodruff campaign goal has grown to $9 million — an unrestricted fund that is essential to the center’s divisions’ ability to provide top-quality cultural offerings.
The 2012 campaign is supposed to wrap up at the end of May, and Carr said current projections are it will be between $200,000 to $250,000 short of the goal — money that’s needed now more than ever.
“The truth of the matter is that we’ve been running deficits here of $2 million to $3 million for the past two to three years,” Carr said. “Deficits are simply toxic. And our long-term financial well-being is far from secure.”
That said, Carr said there is no imminent financial danger for the Woodruff Arts Center, which has an endowment. But the biggest challenge is the ASO. Like other major metro orchestras, the ASO has been running significant annual deficits.
Joe Bankoff, president of the Woodruff Arts Center, who will be retiring about the same time as Carr after six years leading the institution, said the board is working to address the financial issues of the symphony and the center as a whole. There has been a strategic plan, a master plan and a change in the center’s governance structure.
“We are now able to operate in a way that’s much more business-like,” Bankoff said. “We have been able to attract and harness extraordinary leadership in the community.”
Yet Bankoff gave much of the credit for the center’s stability over the decades to Carr.
“As much as anything, he’s proven to be a piece of the institutional glue,” Bankoff said. “The trustees of the center and the annual campaign of the Woodruff Arts Center has been part of the social glue that has helped define Atlanta.”
In fact, Bankoff and Carr had made a verbal pact. One day a year or so ago, Carr told Bankoff that he was thinking about retiring. “You don’t go until I go,” Bankoff told him.
As a result of two of the center’s top executives retiring at the same time is a “sea-change for the organization,” Curry said. A big part of the change will be the institutional memory that Carr and Bankoff have brought to the table.
For Carr, 68, his career has been about “loving life and loving the arts,” and now it just felt like the right time to leave.
“For the first time in my life, I’m thinking more about mortality issues,” said Carr, adding that he didn’t want any fanfare about his retirement. “I don’t see any point of having a party unless it is to raise some money for a good cause.”