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Originally published November 9, 2009 at 12:21 PM | Page modified November 10, 2009 at 11:48 AM

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Former Giant Magnet director taken by surprise at firing; arts rally scheduled Tuesday

Former Giant Magnet director Andrea Wagner says she did not know she was fired until she saw an article in the newspaper; a board member has quit over the issue.

Seattle Times theater critic

IF YOU GO

Arts rally

To discuss Andrea Wagner's firing and the role of boards of directors in arts organizations, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Rendezvous, 2322 Second Ave., Seattle.

Andrea Wagner says that she was taken totally by surprise when the board of directors of Giant Magnet, the Seattle arts organization she has run for the past 14 years, asked for her immediate resignation on Oct. 30.

In a prepared statement issued this past weekend, and a phone interview, Wagner expressed her continuing support for Giant Magnet, which each spring presents an international performing-arts festival at the Seattle Center and in Tacoma for tens of thousands of young people. Wagner noted that when she was asked to resign, "no performance related issues were cited," and no other options or exit strategies were offered.

Wagner said she did not agree to resign, but learned she'd been dismissed the following Monday from an article in The Seattle Times.

She insisted she's "clueless" about the exact reasons for the dismissal, which arose during a long-range planning process led by the board, and confounded by the timing. Giant Magnet is gearing up for its next festival (set for May 2010), and negotiating a new contract with its landlord, the city of Seattle. Wagner planned to appear before the Seattle City Council in early December to discuss the contract.

According to both Wagner and Giant Magnet board president Teresa Gallo, the nonprofit organization is not experiencing a financial crisis. It operates on a budget of roughly $1 million a year, and is carrying a relatively modest deficit of about $35,000.

Not all board members concurred with the decision to oust Wagner, a popular arts administrator who held a variety of posts, including managing director, in her previous 17-year tenure at the local performing arts venue On the Boards.

Michael Dingerson said he resigned from the Giant Magnet board after a "clear majority" of its members voted on Oct. 29 to terminate Wagner, on the grounds that the organization needed new leadership for the future. An eight-year board member, Dingerson stated in an interview that he was not "the only dissenter," but declined to say how many other trustees voted against the move.

"It seemed like a radical choice to make, with limited information," Dingerson said. "Andrea is internationally known, and this is one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world. I can't imagine what anyone else could possibly bring to the table that could eclipse her [contributions]."

Giant Magnet is temporarily being run by board member Steven Havas, who says an interim executive director is being sought, and a search for Wagner's permanent replacement will be launched soon.

Havas said the board is not contemplating the firing of any additional staff, and is "thrilled" with the work of Giant Magnet's producing director Brian Faker and its education director, Bruce Hall.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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