BOPA appoints CEO from within to succeed Bill Gilmore

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Newly appointed BOPA CEO Donna Drew Sawyer (in white, at center), joined by Mayor Catherine Pugh and BOPA staff. Photo by Mark Dennis, courtesy of BOPA.

After 6 months without a CEO of the nonprofit that serves as the city’s official arts council, Mayor Catherine Pugh today announced Donna Drew Sawyer as the new head of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

Sawyer has served as the nonprofit’s chief of external affairs since last year. Before that, she was communications and marketing director for the the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. She took a couple years off between both jobs to write a novel, “Provenance,” which won the 2017 Maryland Writers’ Association Award for Historical Fiction and was picked as a finalist for the Harlem Book Fair’s “First Fiction” category.

She has also worked for the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk and the Sesame Workshop in New York, among other roles.

“With the mayor’s support, with the support of the corporate community, the philanthropic community, the social community and especially the arts community, we are all about… making BOPA vibrant, but also the city of Baltimore vibrant,” Sawyer told reporters at a press conference Wednesday morning.

“I’m really happy that she’s come back to her own city that she loves and to an organization that we’re so proud of,” Pugh said.

The mayor said Sawyer has “big shoes to fill” in the vacancy of Bill Gilmore, who announced he was stepping down as CEO of BOPA last summer after 37 years with the organization. He stayed on until December 2017, as the agency planned the third annual Light City Festival, this year’s Artscape festival and countless other events.

BOPA appointed a search committee that ultimately picked Sawyer for the role in a unanimous vote.

“You’ve got a great legacy to follow, and we know that you’ll be able to do it,” Pugh told Sawyer at the podium.

Sawyer’s appointment comes nine days before the theme-less 2018 Artscape festival. She expressed optimism about the upcoming festival, including the headliners and other entertainment and many vendors coming to set up in the middle of the city.

“We have top talent, we have hot weather, we have good food and we have the best party in the city,” Sawyer said.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Pugh appointed Sawyer, when it was BOPA that appointed her. We regret the error.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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