After a months-long search for a new executive director that attracted applicants from across the country, Vashon Center for the Arts has chosen a familiar face to helm the organization.
Last week, the arts center announced that Allison Halstead Reid, who has served as the board’s interim executive director since last August, had been appointed to the post.
Members of VCA’s hiring committee included board president John de Groen and board members Britt Frida, Michael Tracy and Jenny McMurdo. VCA’s director of arts education, Wendy Finkleman, was also on the committee. Community members on the panel included VCA supporters and former board members Bruce Morser, Tim Roden and Marie Stanislaw.
Morser described the search process as thoughtful and deliberate and said it had resulted in a good decision.
“We took our time to carefully gather and then consider a surprisingly large group of applicants,” he said, noting that he was impressed with the qualifications of the final candidates. “Ultimately, we learned that [Halstead Reid] had the best array of experience and talents to help a multifaceted organization like VCA thrive in the coming years.”
The national job search, initiated in October, resulted in the committee’s review of 80 applications, followed by interviews with 11 candidates that resulted in a slate of four finalists.
Two of those finalists — Halstead Reid and another applicant, a seasoned arts administrator who does not reside in Washington — met with invited audiences of community members, former trustees, artists and VCA staff and board in January.
According to a press release, VCA’s decision to make Halstead Reid’s executive role permanent was prompted by “her ability to lead and grow VCA during a transitional period” that was demonstrated during her tenure by an annual art auction had exceeded income expectations and a 30% increase in public programming.
In her months as interim director, Halstead Reid also established a grant writing program and created a music committee for local musicians, the press release said. Additionally, Halstead Reid had secured a continued partnership with Seattle Dance Collective, an acclaimed ensemble headed by Pacific Northwest Ballet dancers, to perform in residence at the arts for the second time in 2020, the release said.
“From the beginning, I was impressed with [Halstead Reid’s] capabilities and since then have become convinced that she is perfectly suited to handle the complexities of the ED position,” de Groen said.
Prior to her employment at VCA, Halstead Reid worked as director of advancement for the Harbor School, a job that included marketing, communications, donor stewardship and the production of special events for the private school. She first moved to Vashon in 2000 but left to live in Portland in 2004. In 2009, she returned to Vashon and has lived here ever since.
She also co-founded FortunaLux, a Vashon firm that handles auction and event production, marketing, branding and design for organizations including Vashon Island Pet Protectors, UMO Ensemble, Vashon-Maury Land Trust and Vashon Island Rowing’s Passport to Pain Bicycle ride.
Her career in the arts got its start more than 20 years ago when she founded and worked as executive director of AHA Theater, a company that was part of the fringe theater movement in Seattle in the 1990s.
Halstead Reid’s appointment marks a new chapter for the organization after months of executive turnover.
Last April, a staffing shakeup saw the elimination of Angela Gist’s job as VCA’s artistic director. At the same time, Halstead Reid jumped from VCA’s board to its staff, becoming associate executive director.
In August, VCA executive director Kevin Hoffberg, who had served in his position for 14 months, abruptly announced his resignation, citing “personal reasons,” with Halstead Reid then stepping in to serve as interim executive director. In September, The Beachcomber reported that an investigation by VCA’s law firm of Hoffberg’s conduct, prompted by a complaint that he had engaged in inappropriate behavior with a VCA guest, had been underway at the time of his resignation.
In late October, Halstead Reid tapped Darragh Kennan, who had also briefly served on VCA’s board, to become VCA’s associate executive director. At the time of the hire, board president de Groen said that Kennan’s employment would be re-evaluated after one year, in light of the fact that the organization was currently in the midst of a search for a new director.
Reached by phone after the announcement of her hire, Halstead Reid said she had totally supported the long search process and was now eager to dive into her leadership role in an official capacity.
“The lucky thing is that having been here since last April, I’ve had the time to get a broad overview of the organization and all its program arms, wrapping my head around all that and understanding the vision of the organization,” she said, going on to describe the full scope of VCA’s work in presenting both performing and visual arts as well as providing a full array of arts education programs in both its own facility and Vashon schools.
Halstead Reid also praised the staff, board and volunteers of the organization, saying they had fully embraced the expansion of VCA’s program calendar under her watch.
“I don’t know what it was like in other transitions, but [this time] it felt like there was a force at work, a positive energy that comes as we program more,” she said.
She said that she would spend the next 90 days focused on how to expand revenue streams for VCA, which has an annual operating budget of almost $2 million, and reaching out to VCA’s supporters and the broader arts community.
“There are a lot of people who have contributed to this organization, and we want to connect with them and give them the reassurance that we’re strong and we’re moving forward,” she said.
Reid also said that her push to expand programming at VCA would continue, with a dual focus on expanding programming from off-island presenters while also continuing to provide a home for local arts groups such as Vashon Island Chorale and Vashon Opera.
She pointed to VCA’s partnership with Seattle Dance Collective as an indication of how its campus could be used by Seattle and regional arts companies and added that future partnerships were in the works with the Seattle dance company Whim W’Him, as well as Seattle Shakespeare Company and ACT Theatre.
“We have enough days on that stage to accommodate both,” she said, referring to the mix of on- and off-island productions she envisions as sustaining VCA’s place in the community.
She also said she would work to increase VCA’s use as a hub to “come and be and gather” for events like Cinco de Mayo and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebrations.
“We’re seeing the space has so much potential in that way,” she said.
Halstead Reid also said Keenan has spearheaded the launch of a community round table, including representatives of Vashon Events and Open Space for Arts & Community, to promote communication, cross-promotions and partnerships among local presenters.
Last April, former ED Hoffberg posted a budget narrative on VCA’s website, stating that the organization would need to raise in excess of $1.2 million each year, primarily from private donations, with lesser amounts coming from business sponsorships and grants. When asked if she believes that projection still holds, Halstead Reid said she wasn’t sure.
“I wouldn’t put a $1 million tag on it,” she said, adding that she was exploring every possible revenue stream for the organization and conducting site visits of similar arts centers in the region for insights and ideas.
Just prior to the announcement of Halstead Reid’s hire, VCA also signaled an expansion of its marketing department. Applications are currently being accepted for a new full-time position of marketing coordinator for the organization, with a salary range of $40,000 to $45,000 a year. The application deadline for that position is Feb. 8.
Reid’s salary as executive director, she said, is comparable to what Hoffberg earned at the nonprofit — $100,000 a year, an amount Halstead Reid said is slightly below the industry standard for similarly-sized organizations in the region.
She said that she wanted islanders to know that she personally donates thousands of dollars to island nonprofits — and not only arts organizations.
“If I’m going to ask people to donate their time, talent and money to VCA, I have to do the same thing,” she said.