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National Black Arts Festival leader Barclay resigns

By Howard Pousner
hpousner@ajc.com

Neil Barclay has resigned as chief executive officer and president of the National Black Arts Festival, the NBAF has announced.

A statement issued late Friday said that Barclay had already left the NBAF to ” to actively pursue other professional opportunities,” but would consult with the arts organization until a replacement was found.

NBAF board chair Evern Cooper Epps said of Barclay: “We are grateful for his leadership, creativity and insights, particularly in such a challenging economic environment as we have faced over the past few years.”

Barclay, who had led led the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in Pittsburgh, including overseeing the design and construction of its $39.5 million signature building, came to the NBAF prepared to cut.

The once-sprawling festival, which typically operates with an annual budget of more than $2 million, was struggling for funding amid the recession. Hired to replace long-time NBAF executive producer Stephanie Hughley shortly before he attended the 2009 festival, Barclay called its abbreviated schedule centered at the Woodruff Arts Center “a blessing.”

Calling himself “a real systems guy,” Barclay told the AJC in an interview before the 2010 festival, which moved to Centennial Park, “I like to have a business model. So I wanted to take a festival that I think has been extremely successful, but hasn’t focused as much on that — to their credit, I think they focused on the art — and look at how it might be strengthened from a business standpoint.”

He said he thought the festival presented “an embarrassment of riches” and wanted to focus it on fewer quality choices, a trend that continued with last summer’s festival, which ran 10 days at Centennial Park again but with most events concentrated over a single weekend. The film and visual arts programs seemed particularly slight compared to earlier years, and while there was talent, there were fewer artists with strong name recognition on the schedule.

The stated mission of the NBAF, founded in 1987,  is: “to engage, cultivate and educate diverse audiences about the arts and culture of the African Diaspora and provide opportunities for artistic and creative expression.” The NBAF reaches more than 300,000 patrons each year and serves more than 20,000 children, according to the statement.

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