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Longtime ArtsFairfax leader to retire after expanding nonprofit’s role in community

With former board chairs John Mason and Shelly Hazel, and current chair Scott Cryer, ArtsFairfax president and CEO Linda Sullivan announces at the 2023 ArtsFairfax Awards that she will retire (courtesy A.E. Landes Photography/ArtsFairfax)

The woman who oversaw ArtsFairfax’s transformation from an events programmer into the top advocate for Fairfax County’s arts and culture community will soon step down as leader of the nonprofit.

Linda Sullivan announced her plan to retire after 14 years as president and CEO on Oct. 26 at the 2023 ArtsFairfax Awards, an annual celebration and fundraiser that she established to honor notable local artists, arts and cultural organizations and their supporters.

At the awards ceremony, which was held at Capital One Hall in Tysons and raised $175,000, Sullivan said she was “very proud” of her tenure leading the county’s official arts agency.

“It has been a privilege to work with all the elected officials, community leaders, board members, and staff members as we met our strategic goals and grew both the organization and the strength of its services,” Sullivan said. “Serving and supporting the arts in Fairfax County has been a labor of love and joy.”

When Sullivan first joined as a consultant in 2009, ArtsFairfax was still named the Arts Council of Fairfax County and most known for producing the annual International Children’s Festival hosted by Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts from 1971 to 2011, according to the organization.

Even as the county government made deep budget cuts in the wake of the 2008 recession that included eliminating the children’s festival, ArtsFairfax sought to pivot and expand its mission from programming events to actively working with the county and providing support services to local artists and arts organizations.

John Mason, a former Fairfax City mayor who chaired the arts council’s board of directors at the time, says hiring Sullivan in 2010 to lead the organization through that transition as its president and CEO is “the best thing that I did as chairman.”

“Her term led to a more dynamic, engaged board and staff,” Mason said. “Commendable initiatives included engaging Fairfax County and contributing to its Comprehensive Plan with a strong arts program and, importantly, a comprehensive arts facilities plan for the next decade or so. Additionally, she initiated the challenge of engaging arts organizations and helping to ‘market’ them.”

An arts management consultant with prior experience leading museums and art centers, Sullivan told FFXnow in an interview that she remains proud of the council’s rebranding as ArtsFairfax. Since then, the nonprofit raised its profile and doubled both its budget and the amount of grants it offers to arts organizations.

Recipients of the most recent round of operating support grants, for instance, ranged from theater companies and dance troupes to orchestras and George Mason University’s Fall for the Book Festival.

Other highlights of Sullivan’s 14-year tenure include the development of two strategic plans and a countywide master arts plan with recommendations for future facilities, the introduction of artist residences and a poet laureate, and a partnership with Capital One Hall that ensures local groups have access to the venue.

“I’m proud of what we accomplished,” Sullivan said. “I’m really proud that we’ve moved this organization in so many ways to a stronger, more professional organization that is a solid local arts agency for the county.”

Eager to travel “while I still can,” Sullivan says she felt the time was right to step back and let a new leader guide ArtsFairfax into its next phase. She anticipates making her retirement effective on Dec. 31 but will stay longer if needed until the new president and CEO is chosen.

ArtsFairfax’s latest strategic plan, which was crafted during the pandemic and lays out priorities through 2026, includes commitments to making the arts “more accessible, diverse, equitable, and inclusive” and using public art, civic partnerships and placemaking to enhance the community.

“I think the next 10 years or so in the county are going to be an exciting time for the arts, and so, it’s going to be a rewarding job for the next person too,” Sullivan said. “I’ve enjoyed my time and I certainly am proud of what we accomplished, and I look forward to now just being a patron of the arts and coming to the Arts Awards as a guest.”

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