Virginia Hepner, CEO and president of the Woodruff Arts Center, and a leader who guided the arts organization through a successful $110 million “transformation” campaign, announced Friday she will be leaving the Woodruff next spring.
That day, May 31, 2017, will mark five years since Hepner took the reigns at the Woodruff, an organization that includes the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Alliance Theatre and the High Museum of Art.
The summer of 2012, when Hepner arrived, was a contentious time, marked by bitter labor disputes with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and a Woodruff management thunderstruck to discover that an employee had embezzled $1 million.
Hepner came on board after a 25-year career in the banking industry, and began straightening those numbers out. She also presided over the appointment of new leadership at the arts center, as Rand Suffolk became the new director of the High Museum and Jennifer Barlament the new executive director of the symphony.
That $25 million endowment drive was part of the $100 million Transformation Campaign, an ambitious bid to completely renovate the Alliance Theatre, rebuild the symphony, underwrite educational and outreach programs at the High and create a steady flow of dividends that would take pressure off operating expenses.
“Virginia Hepner has done a tremendous job of leading the Arts Center over the last four-plus years,” said Doug Hertz, chairman of the Governing Board of the Woodruff Arts Center, in a statement. “The arts center is in a much stronger position today as a result of her commitment to our art, her willingness to take on some of the difficult issues the arts center has been facing and her incredible energy.”
With a budget close to $100 million a year, the Woodruff Arts Center is the largest arts organization in the Southeast and one of the three largest in the country. In an interview Friday Hepner said she has no plans beyond working from now until May 31 to get the center’s ducks in a row. After that she’s looking forward to a vacation in an unnamed part of the world.
“I can’t imagine I’ll ever retire,” said the 59-year-old, who imagines she’ll be part of the arts in one way or another for the rest of her life. “At the end of the day I’m a business person who believes in arts and culture.”