While searching for a new leader, VCA hires second-in-command

Vashon Center for the Arts has named Darragh Kennan as its new associate executive director.

Darragh Kennan began his job as VCA’s new associate executive director last week (John Ulman Photo).

Darragh Kennan began his job as VCA’s new associate executive director last week (John Ulman Photo).

Vashon Center for the Arts has announced a search for a new executive director, with the aim of hiring a new leader for the arts center by next February.

At the same time, the arts organization has named Darragh Kennan, an island resident who has worked professionally in the Seattle theater scene, as its new associate executive director.

The job description and call for applicants for the executive director job, posted on Monday, Oct. 21, on VCA’s website and also on numerous platforms for jobs in the arts, includes a long list of qualifications for the position. The deadline for applying for the job is Friday, Nov. 15. The timeline for the hire will roll out with reviews of applications and interviews taking place through January, said VCA board president John de Groen.

The salary for the position is listed as between $80,000 and $100,000.

According to de Groen, eight islanders will serve on the search committee and make a hiring recommendation to VCA’s full board of directors.

Allison Halstead Reid, VCA’s acting executive director, has announced her intention to apply for the executive director job, but both she and de Groen said the hiring process would be broad and inclusive, with a serious look at other candidates.

The executive director’s job has seen high turnover since the opening of VCA’s $20 million new arts campus in 2016.

Halstead Reid, who was named the organization’s associate executive in April, became acting director following the August resignation of Kevin Hoffberg, VCA’s previous executive director. Hoffberg had helmed VCA since March of 2018, following an 11-month tenure by Susan Warner, the organization’s previous director.

As acting director of VCA, Halstead Reid recently presided over VCA’s successful annual art auction, which raised $275,000, with more than $110,000 of that earmarked for scholarships to VCA’s education programs — an increase from the 2018 auction total of $271,000.

Members of the new hiring committee include board members de Groen, Britt Frida, Michael Tracy and Jenny McMurdo. VCA’s director of arts education, Wendy Finkleman, is also on the committee. Community members tapped to serve on the panel include long-time VCA supporters and former board members Bruce Morser, Tim Roden and Marie Stanislaw.

Stanislaw served on the board in the 1980s, but Morser and Roden both played key roles during the years that VCA built its new campus. Roden was on the board through most of the building’s capital campaign and construction, from 2009 to 2018, and served as board president from 2014 to 2016. He was on the board at the time of Susan Warner’s hire in 2017, but did not serve on the hiring committee, he said.

Morser served on both the construction and building committees, frequently communicating to the press, public and donors about aspects of the huge building project. Morser left VCA’s board four years ago but has continued to volunteer for the organization.

Coinciding with its launch of a search to hire a new executive director, Vashon Center for the Arts has also named Darragh Kennan as its new associate executive director.

In this hire, there was no call for applications or a search process.

Kennan — whose LinkedIn bio notes a two-month stint on VCA’s board of directors last spring — began his new job at VCA on Monday, Oct. 21.

Halstead Reid said she had hired Kennan earlier this month, with the approval of VCA’s board. She said the hire was necessary because of her heavy workload since Hoffberg’s resignation, and that she had been grateful for Kennan’s generosity in volunteering to help her prior to his hire.

John de Groen, VCA’s board president, agreed, saying Halstead Reid has needed the position to be filled since the time of Hoffberg’s resignation. De Groen added that Kennan had been hired with the understanding that his job would be re-evaluated after one year, in light of the fact that the organization is currently in the midst of a search for a new executive director. Halstead Reid said she was grateful he had accepted this condition.

Both de Groen and Halstead Reid did not respond when asked by email if VCA considered other staffing confirmations to ease Halstead Reid’s workload, other than making another executive hire.

Kennan received a Master of Fine Arts degree in arts leadership from Seattle University. He has previously worked as a donor relations officer for Seattle Repertory Theatre. His background also includes a six-year stint as artistic director of Seattle’s New Century Theatre Company, which closed in 2017. He is perhaps best known as an actor, having appeared in many major roles in numerous Seattle venues including Seattle Repertory Theatre, ACT theatre, and The 5th Avenue Theatre.

Kennan is the third person, in less than two years, to be hired to an executive-level job at VCA without an open hiring process. All three of the hires have had board affiliations at the arts center.

Hoffberg was the board’s vice-president prior to taking the helm of the organization in March of 2018. He, in turn, hired Halstead Reid, who was then a board member, in April of 2019.

The Beachcomber asked Kevin Maifeld, the founding director and a professor of the Master of Fine Arts in Arts Leadership program at Seattle University, to define “best practices” for hiring for nonprofits including VCA, in light of their recent decisions.

Maifeld spoke generally, saying that hiring practices are important in the nonprofit sector because nonprofits hold funds from donors and other contributions in trust. In order to support the work of those who work at nonprofits, it’s important for people in a community to understand how they got their jobs, he said.

“It is standard and normal practice in the nonprofit sector to do searches for leadership positions whenever they become available,” Maifeld said, adding that he strongly believes that nonprofits have a responsibility in their hiring to provide equitable inclusion of people who might otherwise not be on the inside track. This responsibility extends to hires not only of leadership but others with important positions in the organization, he said.

“Nonprofits need to fully reflect the community they serve, and they can’t do that unless they have hiring practices that are open and inclusive,” he said, noting that organizations which do not conduct searches are possibly cutting themselves off from talented candidates who were not given the chance to apply for the job.

According to Maifeld, organizations in transition sometimes bypass searches because they think that being fast is the best strategy.

“I rarely see that paying off dividends because what you need in the future will become different from what you need right now,” Maifeld said. “Searches, when they are done right, are always forward-looking.”

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