Breaking News: Virginia Hepner to step down in May as CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center

Virginia Hepner led Woodruff's successful Transformation Campaign.
Virginia Hepner led Woodruff's successful Transformation Campaign.

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Virginia Hepner, the president and chief executive officer of The Woodruff Arts Center, will step down May 31 at the end of the current fiscal year. The Governing Board of the Arts Center has begun the search for a successor. The announcement comes less than two weeks after the organization exceeded its ambitious Transformation Campaign fundraising goal of $100 million in just two years. 

Hepner became president and CEO of the Woodruff Arts Center in July 2012 and has led the organization — home to the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the High Museum of Art — through a period of significant change and success. That has included two labor stoppages at the ASO, along with the recent financial stability for the orchestra, and new leadership at the symphony and the High Museum of Art. Under her watch, the Alliance is about to build an ultra-modern theater facility.

“Virginia Hepner has done a tremendous job of leading the Arts Center over the last four-plus years,” Doug Hertz, chair of the Governing Board of the Woodruff Arts Center, said 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. We look forward to working with Virginia through the rest of this fiscal year as we identify her successor.” 

Hepner has had a major impact in reshaping the leadership and structure of the Arts Center. She also worked closely with the Governing Board to combine multiple development departments into one integrated organization.

Hertz said her focus on building awareness for the arts and arts education, and their importance to the community, has translated into marked financial improvement for the Arts Center. Under her leadership, the Arts Center has seen significant gains in fundraising, both in annual fundraising and the completion of one of the largest fundraising campaigns in its history, the Transformation Campaign that raised $110 million, much of it to be used for endowments.

In addition, according to a press release, debt has been reduced by more than $33 million, non-strategic assets have been sold and each of the Woodruff divisions has reported operating surpluses for the last two years, the first time that has happened in more than a decade.

“The opportunity to lead one of the world’s great arts institutions and to capitalize upon the Arts Center’s shared services model has been a wonderful experience for me,” Hepner said in a statement. “Our unique arts alliance model was designed so more resources could flow to produce excellent art and education programs. It has been very rewarding to help fulfill that vision to provide more access to the art, to strengthen our financial structure and to improve our patron experience over the last several years.

Hepner said when she took the job in 2012, she planned to commit no more than five years to Woodruff. “We have an exciting next chapter ahead and now it is the right time to begin the transition to new leadership,” Hepner said. “I am so grateful to so many people who have made it possible for us to accomplish a great deal for this wonderful institution. I look forward to working with the Arts Center’s board and our terrifically talented leaders and artists here to complete another successful year.” 

Prior to joining the Arts Center, Hepner worked for 25 years in corporate finance, retiring from Wachovia Bank as an executive vice president. She served in a variety of nonprofit leadership roles, including interim director for Atlanta Ballet, Young Audiences and Brand Atlanta. 

Hepner is a director of Oxford Industries Inc., State Bank & Trust Company and State Bank Financial Corporation. She also serves on the boards of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, the Midtown Alliance, the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, Penn Institute for Urban Research, The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta Endowment Board, the Service Advisory Board for Mayor Kasim Reed and the Scheller College of Business Advisory Board at Georgia Tech. 

She is the recipient of the 2015 Lettie Pate Whitehead Evans Award honoring exemplary for-profit corporate board service by a female director. Past honors include the City of Atlanta Phoenix Award, Lexus Leader of the Arts, YWCA Woman of Achievement and the Outstanding Partner Award from Home Depot. 

She holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from The Wharton School and attended the J.L. Kellogg Graduate Business School of Management at Northwestern University.

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