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Tuesday, December 07, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Seattle arts' leading man retiring to pursue "next act"
By Melinda Bargreen
They call him "the arts czar" and "the arts guru of Seattle."
And he's stepping down. Peter Donnelly, considered one of Seattle's most important arts figures for the past 40 years, announced today he will retire next December as president and chief executive officer of the fund-raising agency ArtsFund.
ArtsFund channels almost $2.5 million in individual and corporate donations to more than 70 arts groups in King and Pierce counties annually.
"Now is the right time for me to pass the leadership of this organization on to someone else and to begin my next act," Donnelly said.
A graduate of Boston University, Donnelly, 65, began his career in Seattle 40 years ago as a Ford Foundation intern with the Seattle Repertory Theatre. He arrived in 1964, in the infancy of the Rep, and rose to become the company's producing director. A prime mover in the building of the company's Bagley Wright Theatre, he also helped establish the company's reputation as a major regional theater center.
In the mid-1980s, Donnelly left the Rep for a three-year stint with the Dallas Theater Center. He returned to Seattle in 1989 to lead ArtsFund, then called the Corporate Council for the Arts.
He reorganized the agency, instituting an annual "ArtsFund Celebrates the Arts" luncheon that draws about 1,000 attendees to hear a "state of the arts" message not only raising the profile of the region's arts groups, but bringing arts workers and performers together with corporate leaders and elected officials.
"I've had a very gratifying run," Donnelly said. "The changes in the arts and in the community as a whole over that period have been unparalleled for any region of its size. It's been a privilege to have been part of them. ... With more than a full year left in this position, I look forward to another fund-raising and grant-making cycle and putting things in place for the transition."
At ArtsFund, which draws money from corporations in King and Pierce counties for major and smaller arts organizations via grants and a workplace giving program, Donnelly has presided over the boom years of the 1990s and the post-2001 downturn.
During his tenure, ArtsFund has more than doubled the amount it raises annually; expanded the number of funded organizations from 20 to more than 70; built a $10 million endowment; and received two important gifts one-third ownership of KING-FM 98.1 radio and ownership of the four-story Century Building (where ArtsFund has its offices).
The Donnelly years also have seen the development of a Building for the Arts state program that has delivered more than $45 million in state funds to about 120 arts facilities. Over the years, Donnelly has proved a most persuasive lobbyist for the arts.
He has backed up those efforts by instituting regular surveys of the local economic impact of the arts, giving arts supporters more than just idealistic platitudes to reinforce their claims about the importance of culture in the Northwest.
"Peter's leadership and accomplishments at ArtsFund have been exceptional," said Ken Kirkpatrick, ArtsFund chair and president of US Bank. "When the board first hired him 15 years ago, this organization was struggling. Now the community recognizes it as an important advocate and voice for the arts in this region as well as the largest single source of unrestricted operating support for nonprofit arts organizations."
Melinda Bargreen: email@example.com
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