The Woodruff Arts Center’s new CEO wants to boost Atlanta’s arts groups
When Doug Shipman was named president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center in early June, a cynic might have observed that the 44-year-old Atlanta executive had landed the cushiest job in town. After all, the Woodruff, already the country’s third-largest arts center, had just collected an impressive $112 million in donations to expand its endowments—on top of the $14 million raised through its annual corporate giving campaign.
Shipman, an Arkansas native and the former CEO and managing director of BrightHouse, an Atlanta-based creative consulting firm, has stepped in at a time when the city’s economy has rebounded from the Great Recession, when the Woodruff member institutions—the Alliance Theatre, High Museum, and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra—are all on strong financial footing, and after a restructuring of the Center’s board of trustees streamlined the management process. It might seem that the new Woodruff chief’s main job is to avoid derailing a train already hurtling full steam ahead.
But in addition to keeping the arts center on its upward trajectory—and overseeing an ambitious $22 million renovation of the Alliance—Shipman views his new job as an opportunity to help improve the financial sustainability of local arts groups that don’t have the Woodruff’s resources.
“The overall health of the Atlanta arts ecosystem is of great interest to the Woodruff,” he says. “It’s the small and mid-sized groups that attract young artists to town. Being an advocate for the arts community as a whole is something I’m enthusiastic about.” It’s a role that Shipman is well-positioned—and personally suited—to take on.
“Doug is an exceptional guy who knows small and mid-sized arts groups in the city,” says Louis Corrigan, founder of local public art organization Flux Projects. “He enters the job knowing the Woodruff is more than just what happens on the campus and that the arts community is bigger and more diverse than Woodruff.”
Since its founding nearly 50 years ago, the Woodruff Arts Center has been something of an ivory tower of the Atlanta arts scene. With Georgia ranking 49th among states in per-capita public funding for the arts and municipal arts grants in decline, the Woodruff has long faced criticism of vacuuming up much of the remaining pool of corporate and private contributions.
In recent years, however, the Alliance has shared its stages with area theater groups, including several shows with the edgy Dad’s Garage, and the High has made a point of showcasing Georgia artists such as painter Medford Johnston and photographer Lucinda Bunnen. Shipman looks forward to strengthening and expanding those local connections.