ASC president will step down next year

Arts & Science Council President Lee Keesler says he plans to step down next summer, giving the group time to find his successor before he goes.

When Keesler, 53, leaves June 30, he will have led the ASC nearly five years. He said Wednesday it helps a group such as the ASC to have a change at the top “at a regular interval.”

“I think it's a healthy thing … to bring in fresh energy – fresh leadership,” Keesler said.

Since taking up the job in October 2004, Keesler has helped a proposed South Tryon Street cultural complex win financial backing from the city of Charlotte. Construction is under way for the new Bechtler Art Museum; uptown homes for the Mint Museums and Afro-American Cultural Center; and a theater. Discovery Place will get a remodeling.

An $83 million fundraising drive, mostly for endowments to support the new facilities, will be concluding as Keesler leaves. More than $61 million has been pledged, Keesler said.

He has spearheaded the ASC's move to sponsor more diverse cultural programs and to bring events to the suburbs surrounding Charlotte.

“I wouldn't want to leave if we weren't making progress on those fronts,” Keesler said.

During Keesler's time, the ASC has also been hit – like many nonprofit groups – by the economic downturn. Though the 2008 fund drive met its goal of $11.2 million, that was a drop from the 2007 campaign's $12.5 million.

Before Keesler took over the ASC, there had been “a lot of friction” between the ASC and the leadership of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, said Blumenthal's current president, Tom Gabbard. Blumenthal's leaders had considered splitting with the ASC. But when Keesler took over, Gabbard said, “he worked very hard to address a lot of issues.”

“He patched that over and made us … enthusiastic supporters of the ASC,” Gabbard said.

“He's such a talented guy,” Gabbard added. “I'm sure our loss will be somebody's gain.”

The ASC hopes to assemble a search committee by mid-September, board chair Donald Truslow said. The group is likely to hire a search firm, and during the fall it will sound out the arts community. It will narrow down the candidates during the winter and spring.

The ASC's fund drive begins in January.

Keesler took the ASC post after 22 years with Wachovia Corp. When he leaves the ASC next summer, he said, he plans to take up to a year off.

“I don't know what I'm going to do,” he said. “I'm not going to think about it… When I left the bank, one of the things I realized is that there's a big world out there.”