Kevin Hoffberg, the executive director of Vashon Center for the Arts, resigned suddenly from his position last week.
Hoffberg had been in his post for 14 months. He is the second executive director to leave the organization since long-time executive director Molly Reed retired in March 2017.
VCA issued a press release on Friday, Aug. 9, praising Hoffberg for his work and saying only that he had left his position the day before, for personal reasons. It added that Allison Halstead Reid, who was named associate executive director of the organization in April, had been appointed VCA’s acting director while the board evaluated how to best fill the executive role.
In an email sent late Monday evening, Hoffberg told The Beachcomber that he planned to talk about his decision at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, on a Voice of Vashon radio program hosted by Jeff and Cindy Hoyt. He also said he would be available for an interview with The Beachcomber on Thursday afternoon.
Hoffberg’s resignation was effective Thursday, Aug. 8. As of that afternoon, he was no longer listed as a staff member on VCA’s website, and his LinkedIn profile listed the conclusion of his employment at VCA as August 2019.
In subsequent interviews, VCA board president John de Groen and Halstead Reid both said repeatedly that Hoffberg’s decision had come as a shock. The Beachcomber interviewed both in person on Friday, Aug. 9, and also spoke by phone with de Groen on Monday, Aug. 12.
De Groen, who arrived home from a 10-day trip to Europe on Aug. 8, said that he had not asked Hoffberg to explain his departure more fully.
“I do not know his personal reasons,” de Groen said. “I totally respect his privacy.”
Halstead Reid, for her part, said she would not speculate on Hoffberg’s reasons for leaving and, as Hoffberg’s close friend, would not discuss his personal issues.
De Groen declined to comment on whether Hoffberg had been under contract with VCA or if he had asked for or would receive any severance payment.
Both Halstead and de Groen spoke highly of Hoffberg.
“My hope is that he continues to stay very involved and active, not just here but in the community,” Halstead Reid said. “He is a brilliant visionary and leader — and three or four months working with him was far too short.”
Halstead Reid also said that she had been in communication with Hoffberg since his resignation and that he had been helpful to her in the sudden transition.
After resigning, Hoffberg attended both a private event on Friday evening for VCA donors, as well as a concert by singer Christine Andreas held at the arts center on Saturday.
VCA’s staff and board learned of the snap resignation in two successive emails Hoffberg sent, said Halstead Reid and de Groen.
The first email, to VCA board members, was sent late Wednesday night. In it, Hoffberg informed the board of his decision to resign for personal reasons and noted that he had cleared out his office and left his keys in the VCA office.
The second email, which landed in staffers’ inboxes at 8 a.m. Thursday, was also brief. According to Halstead Reid and de Groen, the email, in its entirety, said, “Dear friends, I am sad and sorry to tell you that I have resigned from VCA effective today. Personal issues require my full attention. With great love and respect to you all, Kevin.”
Hoffberg, a former board member, joined VCA’s staff as director of operations in March 2018, after the brief tenure of VCA’s previous director, Susan Warner. Her departure came weeks after a contentious town hall meeting, held at VCA in February 2018 and attended by almost 200 islanders. Speakers at the meeting expressed multiple grievances regarding VCA’s direction after it moved to its new $20 million facility in 2016.
The organization’s finances were also called into question during and after the meeting, when it was revealed that the assets of a $6 million trust, established by islander Kay White and long described by the organization as a sustainability fund or quasi-endowment, had been used instead to help pay for construction costs of VCA’s new campus.
Hoffberg was officially appointed executive director in June 2018. At that time, he promised to chart VCA’s course to a secure financial future and re-engage the community in its programs.
Hoffberg had not previously been employed by an arts nonprofit, though he professed a lifelong love of the arts and had served on nonprofit boards. His LinkedIn profile lists a long career as an executive, consultant and entrepreneur, working in almost 20 companies — several of which he started — in industries ranging from technology to marketing, banking and asset management.
As director of VCA, Hoffberg was known for his effusive communication style, which included authoring a weekly blog, The Fish Wrap, published on VCA’s website. In recent weeks, he had written about VCA’s summer arts camps for youth, the organization’s debut of the Seattle Dance Collective and its second annual Summer Arts Fest for visual artists.
On Aug. 8 — the same day as his resignation — The Beachcomber published an op-ed by Hoffberg in which he again enthused about a variety of goings-on at the arts center. Hoffberg submitted the commentary on July 18, but The Beachcomber held it for publication, due to other time-sensitive op-eds, until Aug 8.
Hoffberg regularly presented himself as the face and voice of VCA.
This spring, he hosted a membership meeting at VCA, delivering a 75-minute talk recapping the organization’s previous year and previewing its plans for the future. The evening included a notable financial reveal — a walk-through of documents including profit-and-loss statements for the arts center from 2015 to 2018. The documents, now posted at vashoncenterforthearts.org/financial-information, included the organization’s 2019 budget and a balance sheet as of Dec. 31, 2018.
The documents show that VCA projects a budget deficit of almost $221,000 in 2019, up from a deficit of $13,000 in 2018. In the document, Hoffberg also projected that VCA would need to raise in excess of $1 million on an annual basis.
At the meeting, Hoffberg said VCA had hit that mark in 2018, receiving $1 million in donations with $200,000 more pledged to arrive by the end of 2020. VCA’s current cash reserves, he said, were approximately $1.65 million.
Both Halstead Reid and de Groen, in their interviews with The Beachcomber, said that VCA’s cash position is still strong. De Groen also said that in the wake of Hoffberg’s departure, he had asked that the board look into VCA’s finances and everything appeared to be in order.
“Everything is going along as planned, financially, and we don’t know of any surprises,” he said.
During Hoffberg’s tenure, there was considerable turnover both in VCA’s board and staff. Devin Grimm, VCA’s full-time gallery curator, left the organization in January and was replaced by part-time gallery business manager Lynann Politte. Two other full-time staff positions were also eliminated during Hoffberg’s tenure, as a cost-saving measure.
Hoffberg, however, drew a six-figure salary, indicating after his hire that his salary was $100,000.
In April, VCA announced its most significant staffing shake-up. This eliminated the job of then-artistic director Angela Gist and created a new position of associate executive director, filled by Halstead Reid, who resigned from the board two days prior to joining the organization’s staff.
On Friday, Halstead Reid said that she loves working for VCA and would like to be considered for the organization’s new director and that she believed a search process would seem favorable to the community. De Groen added that although the board needs time to come to a decision about a new hire, both he and staff members were grateful to have Halstead Reid at the helm for now.
“If I am offered the job, I will fully accept it,” Halstead Reid said. “If I’m asked to submit my resume, I will absolutely do that.”
Halstead Reid went on to say that she hoped Hoffberg knew, despite his abrupt departure, that he had created a strong infrastructure at the arts center.
“There is never a good time for this kind of transition,” she said. “But I hope that he would … recognize that he put in place a strong staff and board that could move forward, even as chaotic as these first few weeks will undoubtedly be. He told our staff regularly that he had the utmost faith in us as an organization and in the things we do.”
De Groen urged the community to have restraint and refrain from speculation about Hoffberg’s reasons for leaving.
“It’s a personal matter, and conjecture can do nothing but damage people’s reputations,” he said.