Locked-out Atlantans demand: where’s the missing $2 million?

Locked-out Atlantans demand: where’s the missing $2 million?


norman lebrecht

September 29, 2014

The Woodruff Arts Center, which hosts and string-pulls the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, is starting to feel the heat.

The WAC recently sold a piece of property for around two million dollars. But instead of responsibly applying the windfall towards repairing the orchestra’s finances, Virginia Hepner,WAC’s president and CEO, donated the cash to an organization called the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta (CFGA).

The big-hearted Hepner (pictured) was a board member of this body before she was made prez of WAC. She did not disclose that link when making the inexplicable donation to a board of her old pals.

virginia hepner

The musicians are fuming. They say:

If the President of the Woodruff Arts Center can be allowed to steer such significant donations to honor her former business associations, one must question to what degree Woodruff Arts Center executives are able to steer business, favors, and funding to corporations in which they have a personal stake. 




  • Jeffrey Levenson says:

    Totally illegal. A board member cannot personally benefit financially from their membership.

  • Anon says:

    An understandable, but intriguing reaction from the musicians. They expect their board members to “steer business, favours and funding” to the orchestra, because of the board’s “personal stake” in the orchestra. They welcome it with open arms, when it happens, until it appears to happen the other way.
    (As an aside, if WAC sold the property, why should it have put the money to the orchestra finances? Shouldn’t it more properly go to the general aims and operation of WAC as a whole?)

    • Sarah says:

      From the Foundation’s own website – they are not exactly hurting, so why couldn’t the ASO gotten that measly few million?

      Assets: Estimated at $755 million
      Gifts: $104 million given to The Community Foundation in gifts to new and existing funds
      Grantmaking: $95 million distributed to approximately 2,000 nonprofit and faith-based organizations locally, nationally and internationally

    • nick says:

      Anon, you stupid idiot. WAC is the parent organization of ASO. ASO does not even file tax return. You have long been pretending you know facts and spilling your witless nonsense here on all kinds of subjects. It’s time for you to learn the value of “know what you’re talking about”.

    • A different anon says:

      “The other way” you are speaking of refers to fleecing one organization to give to another. The WAC owned the property, and the funds from the sale went to a completely different organization. Is “philanthropic embezzlement” a thing now?

  • ATLer says:

    The building that was sold was a three-stage performance venue, home to many local theatre and dance groups. The WAC donated the $2m to the Foundation for it to fund venues for the displaced (and other) small arts groups. For the affected community, it was a small token for the loss of a long-term rental space.

    • anon3 says:

      It is all very well being magnanimous and supporting local community foundations and outreach and “to seed outreach programs”, but if you have a major deficit *within* your own organisation, the latter must surely take precedence. That the board has failed to use the windfall to plug a purported deficit in its orchestra (despite the agreement made with the musicians in 2012) suggests a paucity of commitment to the orchestra’s future. One wonders what motivated the sale in the first place — was there some insider link also with SCAD, or was Woodruff simply trying to reduce operating costs?

      • Mike says:

        Agreed. One struggling nonprofit should not prioritize the needs of another nonprofit over it’s own mission. The fact the individual steering the donation was involved with the recipient organization is very troubling and should have been thought about, it appears to be (nonprofit) self-dealing.

  • Anon2 says:

    Dumb question here. To whom was the property sold? Is the new owner not willing to rent it to those groups?

  • Paul says:

    maybe someone here could post the exact name or location for the property in question? which “three-stage performance venue, home to many local theatre and dance groups”?

  • Mikey says:

    Quick correction: “Atlanta Symphony Orchestra”, not “Atlantic”. It’s a city, has nothing to do with the ocean. Probably an autocorrect issue 🙂

  • PV says:

    It’s the Playhouse on 14th, sold to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design).


    Since the sale, I haven’t seen anything non-SCAD on the marquee.

    The CGFA seems to be a granting organization — someone donates, they distribute. Their grants to the arts in the Metro Atlanta area sum up to around $500,000, which isn’t bad, but isn’t huge either. Their website says nothing about helping folks out with renting performance space.
    They do have 36 members on staff, so I assume operating budget must be huge.

  • Mary Campbell says:

    Nonprofits are indeed required to file yearly account abilities with the IRS.

  • Jan Robison says:

    So how much does the Community Foundation donate to the orchestra?

    • PV says:

      7 Stages – $44,500
      Art Papers – $45,000
      Atlanta Celebrates Photography – $30,000
      Atlanta Chamber Players – $15,000
      Atlanta Contemporary Art Center – $60,000
      Atlanta Shakespeare Company – $45,000
      Aurora Theatre Inc. – $50,000
      Dad’s Garage Theatre Co. – $60,000
      Horizon Theatre Company – $38,000
      Monroe Art Guild – $5,000
      Moving in the Spirit – $35,000
      Out of Hand Theatre – $12,500
      True Colors Theatre – $60,000

      ASO = $0

      • Rachel Ciprotti says:

        The Metro Atlanta Arts Fund (the arts wing of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta – CFGA) is set up to fund ONLY arts organizations with budgets under $2 million, so the Woodruff and it’s entities are all ineligible for funds from the MAAF. The MAAF is an extraordinary organization who is dedicated to helping arts organizations and encouraging them to be better stewards of public funds by requiring its grantees to have full-time staff, create long-range strategic plans, and other things we all SHOULD already be doing, but often are not. http://www.metroatlantaartsfund.org/about/index.html

        It should not have been left out from this note that the 14th Street Playhouse was DONATED to the Woodruff by the CFGA in 1991. This is the reason why it was deemed appropriate to donate the funds from the sale back to the CFGA. You can find out more from this article that came out when the sale took place back in January: http://saportareport.com/blog/2014/01/woodruff-arts-center-sells-14th-st-playhouse-to-scad/

        It should also be noted that $1 million was returned to the CFGA, not $2 million. I believe the remaining money covered outstanding debt on the building, but I can’t find reference to that, so I may be mis-remembering.

  • Christine says:

    Atlanta Chamber Players – $15,000
    This group is primarily ASO members, with the exception of the pianist and one or two string players.