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Posted on Sat. Aug. 10, 2013 - 12:30 am EDT

Longtime Arts United chief accepts NC job

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FORT WAYNE — After 15 years with Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne, Executive Director Jim Sparrow will leave the organization in September for a position in North Carolina.

Sparrow has accepted the position of president and CEO of the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County. Sparrow’s position in North Carolina will be effective Sept. 20.

Arts United Board Chairman Andrew Boxberger said Friday that the board has known about Sparrow’s departure for the past week. He said although the news of Sparrow’s departure came as a surprise, it was not a surprise that another organization would want to have Sparrow as an asset.

“We’re happy for Jim, and we understand why they are taking him,” Boxberger said. “We are a little disappointed. We’re losing a great asset, but we will find a great replacement and continue with the success that we’ve had.”

The announcement of Sparrow’s departure raised questions about a possible change within the Fort Wayne Ballet organization, which Sparrow’s wife of 12 years, Karen Gibbons-Brown, has served as the executive and artistic director for 16 seasons.

However, Gibbons-Brown said Friday she is committed to her work with the ballet and will remain in Fort Wayne with the couple’s youngest child, who has one more year left in high school.

The two have a combined family of five children between the ages of 18 to 22. She said the couple will have two residences.

“I was the director before Jim and I were married, and I was the director for quite a while,” Gibbons-Brown said. “We (the ballet) just began a three-year strategic initiative that I’m committed to, and want to be artistically involved with.”

Boxberger said Sparrow has given Arts United ample time to adjust to the changes before he leaves, and that the staff is positioned to continue ongoing projects.

Sparrow departs in the midst of construction of the ArtsLab black box theater downtown. The $1.6 million addition to the Auer Arts Center on Main Street is scheduled to be completed before next year.

Boxberger said the board will have an executive meeting next week to begin discussing Sparrow’s successor. He said the search will include national and local candidates who will be able to quickly take the helm of Arts United’s various partnerships with local arts organizations and initiatives.

Although a timeline has not been established, Boxberger said the board hopes to find a qualified candidate well before the end of the year, but will not rush to make the decision.

“I like to see someone who will continue our mission, and who is well-versed in the arts. They will need to be a community leader who can expand the arts footprint in the region, help develop the cultural district, and really continue what Jim has put in place,” he said. “That’s not to say we’re looking for Jim’s replacement – we may during the search find a person who is similar to Jim, but has different qualities. We’re excited about that.”

Gibbons-Brown said her husband has been nationally recruited by arts organizations for the past two years, and that his final interview with the Arts Council of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County was in July.

As for now, Gibbons-Brown says she doesn’t have any plans to move in the near future, but it’s important to remain open to any opportunity. She said the couple did not make the decision lightly – as two professionals committed to the arts, she says that it is a bittersweet transition.

“Jim has been very committed to making sure that the arts have a presence. We both are transplants to this community and what drew us in was the rich arts culture it has. It has been important to him and myself,” she said. “As an arts professional, I think it’s sad, but wonderful. As a wife, I think it’s sad, but wonderful.”

Sparrow has been a part of the Arts United staff since 1998, first serving as the director of development and education specialist before being promoted to executive director in 2006.

He will continue to serve on the Americans for the Arts Private Sector Giving Board after his departure.

Sparrow was out of town and not available for comment Friday.

However, in Friday’s press statement Sparrow said, “It has been one of the most rewarding parts of my life to serve this community and work with such outstanding arts groups and community volunteers.

“I know that the community is positioned for continued growth and success and (I) am proud to have played even a small role in it over the years.”

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