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White out as Springfield Arts Council director

The arts council board president said the organization is restructuring.

The brief tenure of David A. White III as executive director of the Springfield Arts Council came to an end this week after his position was eliminated.

The arts council board voted Wednesday night to adopt an operating structure common among arts groups nationally, with an artistic director and a business director at the helm, board president Debbie LeMelle said Friday.

White, 60, will fill neither role and was let go just months after he took over the organization led for 39 years by Chris Moore, who now bears the title of director emeritus.

“David is a gentleman. He’s a gracious person. It was definitely amicable,” LeMelle said.

While a business director has yet to be named, Tim Rowe will be managing artistic director permanently. The venerable local nonprofit enjoys an annual budget of $1 million.

Rowe, 57, is a lifelong Springfield resident who had recently entered his 13th year as the arts council’s marketing director. Prior to that, Rowe was Project Jericho’s first director.

The move to restructure — without him — came as a surprise to White.

“I was excited to serve an organization I have come to love and respect,” White said.

“As a gentleman,” he added, “I respect their decision.”

The arts council remains on firm financial footing, LeMelle said, but it was an ideal time to restructure, she added.

The arts council is two shows into its annual Broadway & Beyond Series at Kuss Auditorium, and will present the national tour of “West Side Story” on Wednesday.

But, with that new season off and running, and the 2014 Summer Arts Festival largely booked, “This is the quietest time in the office,” LeMelle said. “Now is our time.”

LeMelle called the board’s action “a tough decision, but it will be the best in the long run.”

Moore, who hired White to be his successor, grooming him for two years to take over, said Friday he had been asked by the board for advice on the new operating structure.

“As director emeritus,” Moore said, “I will be there to help them any way possible.”

Moore officially retired this past summer at the conclusion of the 47th annual Summer Arts Festival, and said he left the arts council in healthy shape.

“What they (the board) saw on the horizon was not as healthy,” he said.

White’s wife and daughter still reside in Columbia, Mo., where he served as executive director for almost nine years of the Missouri Theatre Center for the Arts.

But, his exit from that arts group seemed equally abrupt.

In 2009, as the Columbia Daily Tribune reported, he resigned “amid a flurry of lawsuits over the arts center’s unpaid bills and lingering debt from the theater’s $10 million restoration project.” White, a Kettering native, told the Columbia newspaper, however, he wasn’t pressured to resign.

“We’re excited to work with Tim and wish David the best,” LeMelle said.

The shakeup at the Springfield Arts Council came the same week that Dayton-based Culture Works released a study showing that the nonprofit arts and culture organizations in an eight-county area — including Clark County — account for a $161.3 million boost to the region’s economy each year.

As a 1974 graduate of South High School, Rowe has grown up with the Springfield Arts Council and its admission-free Summer Arts Festival in particular.

In addition to directing 10 festival musicals, he’s also built and designed sets for at least 35 shows.

“I’ve got a lot of affection for the organization,” Rowe said, “and what we bring to the community.”

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