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Director: Arts Group CEO Should Resign

The embattled president and chief executive of the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation, L. Bradford Armstrong, now faces dissent from within.

At least one member of the foundation's board of directors is quietly seeking Armstrong's ouster, and other directors are growing frustrated, says a board member who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A string of missteps and the inability to raise significant private donations for the planned performing arts center downtown have led some members of the board to believe the foundation needs to go in a new direction, the board member says. Although the group is in the minority, its members contend that Armstrong needs to resign in order to gain Mayor L. Douglas Wilder's support for the project.

"I think it's time for him to go," the board member says.

Most board directors, however, support Armstrong, says Jim Ukrop, the foundation's chairman. Ukrop says he isn't aware of any internal dissent. "Brad enjoys great support from our board," Ukrop says. "I think Brad has done an outstanding job."

Supporters say Armstrong, a former Martin Agency executive tapped to lead the organization in 2001, was adept at raising public dollars — particularly about $8 million from the state — and winning a meals-tax hike from City Council.

Even the board member seeking Armstrong's ouster says Armstrong was the right man for the job in 2001. "He had a passion for the arts, and he was a wonderful marketing person," the board member says.

The recent struggles with the mayor, this person says, have made it clear that the project has little chance of gaining traction without drastic changes. Wilder has repeatedly questioned the financial strength of the organization, criticized the foundation's use of public funds and even demanded the property where the performing arts center would sit be deeded back to the city.

For his part, Armstrong says he knows of no movement seeking his removal. "If that's the case, I'm not aware of it," he says. He declined to comment further.

In the past few weeks, however, Armstrong has taken steps to appease Wilder and critics who say he's making far too much money. Armstrong volunteered to cut his $275,000 salary by $100,000 at the foundation's Sept. 13 meeting. The response from Wilder, who's criticized the salary, has been tepid at best.

Wilder spokesman Bill Farrar says a subsequent meeting with the foundation's brain trust Sept. 15 was "good," but the two sides have yet to reconcile their differences. Ukrop, along with foundation directors John W. Bates, John Sherman and Beverley W. "Booty" Armstrong attended that meeting.

Brad Armstrong wasn't invited. — Scott Bass

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