Jerry Ruiz will leave his position as executive director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center by the end of July for a more artistic position at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s resident professional theater company, Ruiz said. He started at the Guadalupe a little over one year ago on May 4, 2015.
“This is a very amicable parting even though it’s sudden,” he said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “It’s not that I was unsatisfied with the work or any part of the (Guadalupe) organization. This is about getting back to my roots as a stage director and producer – that’s been the focus of my career.”
Before Ruiz starts as assistant artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company on Aug. 1, he will assist the Guadalupe’s board and staff transition to new leadership. A national executive search was launched and will be facilitated by local consultancy firm Opt In Experts.
Meanwhile, long time staff member Belinda Menchaca will serve as Associate Director and current Performing Arts Director Joel Settles has been promoted to Programs Manager. Guadalupe Board Chair Celina Peña and Ruiz are confident that continuity will not be lost for the Guadalupe’s numerous upcoming performances, ongoing multidisciplinary programming, and projects like the renovation of the historic Progreso Drugstore building.
Publicly, Ruiz will likely be remembered for pulling the Guadalupe Theater out of the 2016 Contemporary Art Month programming due to the lack of Latino artists participating in the curated exhibit.
His decision to leave has “nothing to do with that,” he said, but he’s okay with leaving that mark.
“I see that as us reaffirming our mission, which is to advocate for the audience and artists that we serve,” Ruiz said. “There was some concern in the years prior that we were drifting from that mission. … I think we could have handled the fallout a little bit better, but as far as the actual decision – I sleep well at night.”
And he didn’t make the decision alone, Peña said. Many stakeholders “appreciated the executive leader making space for them to have a voice.”
The less-public byproduct of Ruiz’s tenure is the expansion of the nonprofit’s multidisciplinary offerings with more live music performances, a revival of literary programming, and a return to the idea of the Guadalupe as a space for “constant activity.”
“The original model the organization was built upon really works,” Ruiz said. “It allows (The Guadalupe) to speak to a wide array of audiences.”
Ruiz also worked to integrate new, young professionals and community members into the Guadalupe’s team alongside long time staff, Peña said.
“It’s a path of respecting and making sure that we keep the history while moving the organization forward,” she said.
This has led to an expanded network of partners that help fill in the gaps of and strengthens existing programming without overburdening staff, she added. “(We now have) more nuanced programming within the framework of the Guadalupe.”
The Guadalupe has had a relatively high turnover rate of executive directors and interim leaders since Pedro Rodriguez’s 15-year stint concluded in 1998: there have been approximately seven, including another interim term for Rodriguez. This time the board is taking a different approach as it searches for its new leader.
In the past, they’ve “picked the top” applicants, Peña said, but the Opt In team will facilitate a more “fluid” review process that allows Guadalupe board members and staff to meet more applicants. “The reason why we’re creating this process this round is to dig a little bit deeper in conversation about their commitment about lifting up the organization — the job requires a significant amount of administration (experience).”
But that doesn’t leave out applicants with a strong creative drive, she added. It’s a matter of finding, “the right balance of artist and administrator. … We want someone who is responsive, reflective and nurturing of the (art) community, but we also want someone who feels firmly footed in (the business side).”
Both turnover and challenges with succession planning are somewhat typical of the arts administration world, Peña said. “Life happens,” and artists are routinely pulled back to more creative avenues after trying out other roles. “You can’t argue with that.”
She couldn’t argue with Patty Ortiz when she stepped down in 2014 or when Ruiz came to her about a week ago with his decision. “I know he’ll carry the Guadalupe in his heart.”
Ruiz’s new position will still require one foot in leadership and administration, he said, but he’ll also be on the stage more as a director and producer of theater at PlayMakers. He hopes to pursue more freelance opportunities across the country as well – something there was little time for as executive director of the Guadalupe.
“My relationships with artists working in (multicultural theater) are really strong and I’ll take those with me everywhere I go,” he said. It was through these connections that he was recommended for the job in North Carolina. When PlayMakers first reached out, “I wasn’t too sure I would make that jump.” He eventually saw it as an opportunity to continue the career arc that allowed for more artistic expression.
“(The Guadalupe) was a great experience for me and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “It’s a huge honor to lead an organization with such a long and rich history. I’m really confident about the team that’s in place. Where we are now as opposed to a year ago is that we have an overall sense of direction. … Expect things to keep moving.”
Neither Ruiz nor Peña knew for sure if anyone internally is interested in applying for the job.
“I don’t think they want to step in, but they can definitely keep things on course,” Ruiz said.
Applicants for the executive director position must have three or more years of management experience, “be a seasoned communicator and fundraiser with great appreciation for Latino art and culture.”
Cover letters and résumés can be sent to jobs@guadalupeculturalarts.
Top image: Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Executive Director Jerry Ruiz. Photo by Page Graham.