Arts attack: 2nd St. director abruptly resigns

Is there something in the nonprofit water that has directors of local cultural institutions dropping like cherry blossoms to pursue the ubiquitous "other opportunities"? Long-time Second Street Gallery executive director Leah Stoddard becomes the latest to mysteriously disappear, turning in a resignation May 5–- without the usual two weeks or more notice that typically accompanies cordial departures. By May 6, she was no longer listed on the gallery website.

"I have resigned," Stoddard confirms from home May 7. As for the lack of notice, "I can't really talk about it," she says.

Stoddard joins the Paramount Theater's former director Edward Rucker, who tendered his resignation May 2 "to pursue other opportunities" after a 10-month tenure and University of Virginia Art Museum director Jill Hartz, who was shown the door in December and then landed a job heading the University of Oregon's much larger museum. (Not to mention cultural icon Mac McDonald.)

"She wanted to pursue other options and spend more time with her family," offers acting director/membership and outreach coordinator Catherine Barber, who notes that a national search will be launched for Stoddard's successor.

Second Street board co-presidents Trish Crowe and Steve Delgado had not returned phone calls at press time. "We will miss Leah's passion and commitment to Second Street and wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors," says Delgado in a release sent out today.

"I will say they changed their website mighty fast," says Hook art critic Laura Parsons. "I'm livid about this. Leah is one of the best assets to the town we have, and she did a fantastic job at Second Street. She raised it to a national reputation."

Parsons cites Stoddard's fundraising abilities and her community outreach. "She curated cutting-edge shows and worked well with artists," says Parsons, who adds that she's also upset that Jill Hartz "got the heave ho."

Stoddard seems sanguine about her abrupt resignation. "It's a good time for me to move on," she says. "I was there for eight-and-a-half years" During that time, she quadrupled Second Street's budget, scoring, for instance, a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation, and tripled membership and staff, as well as moving into the Live Arts building on Water Street, she says.

"It's a long run for an executive director of a nonprofit," says Stoddard. "I did over 100 shows."

So why the sudden rash of departures on the local arts scene? "I think it's a time of transition for nonprofits," she says. "It's a tough time for nonprofits when the economy gets tough."

Stoddard heads to Russia May 19. "I want to stay in Charlottesville," she says, maybe to teach, or advise artists or collectors. And, naturally, the mother of two will spend more time with her family.

4:22pm addendum: How could we forget, from our list of hastily departing cultural leaders this one: Doug Day whose irreverent blog angered the board of the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society.

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