Pro Arts’ Executive Director Steps Down, Latest in Wave of Recent Art World Departures

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Installation view of Ebb / Flow, Selections by Cesar Garcia and Naima J. Keith, 2015. (Courtesy of Pro Arts)

The Oakland visual arts nonprofit Pro Arts announced Wednesday Executive Director Margo Dunlap is stepping down after eleven years at the organization. This news comes just two weeks after Executive Director Lex Leifheit announced her departure from San Francisco's SOMArts and two months after di Rosa Executive Director Kathryn Reasoner announced the end of her ten-year tenure at the Napa institution.

In an email announcement, the Pro Arts Board of Directors thanked Dunlap “for her tenacious work serving the arts community.” According to the email, Pro Arts nearly doubled its annual budget, expanded its educational youth arts programs in the Oakland Unified School District and initiated the 2 x 2 Solos exhibition series, a coveted showcase for emerging Bay Area artists and curators, during Dunlap's tenure.

Despite these accomplishments, Dunlap's departure is sudden -- her name is already absent from the Pro Arts website and her LinkedIn profile now identifies her as an "Independent Management Contractor." Board member Helene Fried declined to comment on why Dunlap stepped down, citing the former executive director's privacy in what Fried termed a "personnel matter."

The details of these three recent departures are very different. But together they point to gaps in nonprofit leadership at a time when many Bay Area arts organizations are struggling to remain afloat.

Leifheit, who joined SOMArts as executive director in 2008, leaves her position for a newly-created role in the Mayor’s Office Of Economic and Workforce Development. Reasoner departs to “pursue independent projects,” according to a Feb. 18 press release from di Rosa. Both Leifheit and Reasoner remain in their positions through the end of May. SOMArts and di Rosa have not yet announced their searches for new executive directors.


Meanwhile at Pro Arts, Nancy Gonchar, board member and former Deputy Director of the San Francisco Arts Commission, will serve as Interim Executive Director while the board begins a search for Dunlap's replacement.