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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
Seattle Times music critic

ArtsFund boss Peter Donnelly: "I've had a very gratifying run."
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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.

Peter Donnelly


Age: 65, born on Oct. 6, 1939

Title: President and chief executive officer, ArtsFund

Birthplace: Boston

Education: Boston University's School of Fine Arts

Years in present position: 15

ArtsFund's annual allocations to arts groups: Nearly $2.5 million

Number of arts organizations served: More than 70

Donnelly's funding coups on behalf of ArtsFund: Raised $10 million in endowments; received the $2.4 million Century Building (across from Seattle Center) from the Kreielsheimer Foundation; awarded one-third ownership of KING-FM 98.1 radio from the Bullitt family.

Melinda Bargreen

Because of ArtsFund's well-known and rigorous annual overview of the groups it funds and Donnelly's long experience, he has become a valuable source for information and advice for the entire arts community. He's the person everyone calls to find out whether a group is really in trouble, whether a new venture is likely to fly and whose new capital project might get state or local funding. Arts pros value his advice and respect his wisdom.

"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: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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