In 1980, when Peggy Baggett took over the position of executive director of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Ronald Reagan had just been elected president, “The Empire Strikes Back” was the top-grossing movie of the year and former Beatle John Lennon was murdered in New York City.
Thirty-one years later, Baggett is leaving her position, and ending what would have been the longest running tenure by any state arts czar in the country. According to sources, she will step down in December.
A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Baggett received her master's degree in arts administration from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. A former advisor to the National Council for the Arts, she was selected by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies as the 1999 winner of the Gary Young Award, which celebrates outstanding achievement in state arts administration. Earlier this year, she received a leadership in the arts award from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Under her tutelage, Virginia's arts commission -- a state agency -- provided thousands of grants and necessary funding to artists and cultural organizations around the commonwealth, and Baggett served as a frequent liaison to the governor and to the state legislature. In addition to supervising an annual statewide arts conference, Baggett oversaw numerous successful cultural initiatives during her tenure, including the Crooked Road heritage trail and last year's Minds Wide Open statewide tribute to women in the arts. She fought successfully when the General Assembly proposed defunding the commission last year, but its work was still hampered by numerous budget cuts, including a 30 percent drop in funding in 2008 and an additional 16 percent cut in 2010.
Baggett was not immediately available for comment. But she released a statement on Monday night.
"For over three decades I have had the honor of working with the wonderful, creative, and dedicated people who enrich the lives of all of the citizens of the Commonwealth through the arts. Thanks to the good work of artists, managers of arts organizations, backstage technicians, designers, costumers, gallery owners, the people who serve on boards of directors and the thousands of volunteers, the arts are thriving in every corner of Virginia. I am grateful to have had a career that I continue to love and am richly rewarded to have had a small role in the flourishing of the arts across Virginia."
“It's an incredible loss,” says the former managing director of the Richmond Ballet, Keith Martin. “Peggy has been invaluable to Virginia's arts community. … Her institutional knowledge and her ability to work with different kinds of people is something you just can't replace. She'll be sorely missed.”