Paramount loses Rucker

Less than a year ago, after a national search that produced 71 candidates, the Paramount Theater heralded new executive director Edward I. Rucker (pictured left with CNET founder Halsey Minor at the groundbreaking of the Landmark Hotel in March), a Charlottesville resident, as a man of "vision, enthusiasm, and experience." The best person for the job, Paramount chair Gary Taylor said at a July 19, 2007 press conference introducing Rucker, was "right here."

Well, Rucker's not there anymore. He resigned May 2, Taylor confirms, less than 10 months after his arrival. His departure, after two weeks' notice, creates a powerful sense of deja vu. Less than two years ago, in September 2006, the Paramount's original executive director, Chad Hershner, who oversaw the 1931 theater's nearly $16 million renovation and 2004 reopening, also suddenly resigned. Hershner, who resurfaced as vice president of advancement at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton, Wisconsin, did not immediately return the Hook's call.

Like Hershner's, Rucker's resignation "was definitely unexpected," says Taylor, who won't comment on the reasons for Rucker's departure other than to offer the vague assertion that Rucker wished to "pursue other opportunities"– an explanation ubiquitous with mysterious resignations.

Rucker-¢ââ??¬“ a Charlottesville resident since 1988-¢ââ??¬“ served as President and CEO of the Richmond Forum, a nonprofit that charges big-ticket prices for Richmonders to hear heads of state and other high-profile speakers. Rucker long maintained homes in Richmond and in Charlottesville, where, from the late 1980s, he served on the boards of Second Street Gallery and the Piedmont Council for the Arts. Before joining the Forum, Rucker was director of development and government relations at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. In November, the Piedmont Council of the Arts honored him with its 2007 Arts Award in the Organization category on behalf of The Paramount Theater.

Neither the Paramount nor Richmond Forum could provide contact information for Rucker, whose number is unlisted. However, the Hook discovered him gardening at his house off Rugby Road yesterday afternoon, and he graciously accepted our request for an interview.

"One year was pretty exhausting," Rucker says, citing the six-day work week and grueling hours– sometimes from 9am until late into the evening on nights of a performance. Long hours aren't the only reason running the Paramount is no easy gig, he says, listing the multiple constituencies the executive director must serve: media, staff, board, board committees, donors and, of course, the artists who perform, who have included Tony Bennett, Yo Yo Ma, and Ricky Skaggs over the past four years.

Rucker says he's proud of the accomplishments during his single-season tenure– he mentions successful fundraising, strengthening partnerships, and cutting operating expenses. But remaining for a second season didn't appeal to him. "My career interests are moving in other directions," he says, citing a wish to focus on "education administration and development."

As Rucker ponders his future career options, Taylor says the Paramount board has not begun a search for a new director but is instead "talking with a couple of national consulting firms that specialize in helping arts organizations just like us to find the right leadership and the right model for what is a very unique community."

Taylor thanks the Paramount's staff of 14 full-timers for jumping in to fill Rucker's shoes with little warning.

"The transition of his departure has gone exceptionally smoothly," says Taylor. "We haven't missed a beat."

Rucker, who plans to remain in Charlottesville, says if the organization does miss a beat, he'll be glad to help out in some way.

"I've pledged to respond," he says, "if they call."

–Photo by Jay Kuhlmann

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10 comments

Unfortunately, this isn't all that unusual. Volunteer boards often have a hard time coalescing and agreeing on a course of action, and that makes it difficult for a paid manager/director to have a very fulfilling tenure. Since both Hershner and Rucker left with little notice, it might indicate that the board is oblivious to what's actually going on, and just doesn't understand how to be effective. They're on the board either for resume reasons, social status, or any number of other reasons - none of which necessarily result in executing on their fiduciary responsibilities. There's often more than one conflict of interest present and everybody looks the other way - mostly because they have their own conflicts of interest to ignore!

I hope the new director will bring more rock acts.

I think they are still losing money hand over fist.

Agree Richard. Need more bands. Earle, Tweedy and Keen were excellent.

Definitely need to revisit their booking strategy. They've never come remotely close to the "sample schedule" they had on their site while they were raising money. I'm still waiting for that $45 Robert Cray show.

Music Lover, you and I must have been observing some of the same boards. The only person that you didn't mention is the board member who really wants to be the director and uses his influence he/she paid for to be on the board to drive the poor director crazy.

It's also about time to let us bring a beer in there for concerts.

Music Lover,
No question most board members are recruited for social status/potential donation as opposed to devotion to the cause. Money is absolutly important but you can go too far like the UVA Art Musuem. They have board members who prior to being asked to join had never even been there. Even worse at least half of the board members have never joined the museum. However they are quick to demand their rightful place at the annual meetings when they are in a cool place. Finally there are a couple of members who couldn't tell you the name of any artist other than the last one they were told to buy.

Uhhh...guys...think for a minute: sounds to me like the guy was forced to hit the road. Seriously. Or does "pursue other opportunities" mean something else in your book? Have you know it alls heard the rumors about Rucker? C'mon. Besides, that building's board is the Who's Who of Cville.

Look at their schedule? It stinks. Do you blame the board for moving on?

As for Rucker--the guy basically admitted he couldn't handle the job. Doesn't it sound like he couldn't handle what was asked of the position? I'd stick to gardening.

Oh, and I vote for beer. And I've heard a rumor they're gonna let it in!

Check this out: "Long hours aren't the only reason running the Paramount is no easy gig, he says, listing the multiple constituencies the executive director must serve: media, staff, board, board committees, donors and, of course, the artists who perform, who have included Tony Bennett, Yo Yo Ma, and Ricky Skaggs over the past four years."

HA! As if the guy was caught off guard that, as ED of a nonprofit, he'd have to respond to all those types? A staff? YIKES! Donors? SHOCKING! Board? WHO WOULD'VE THUNK IT!

Summary: Over his head.