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Pentangle Executive Director Leaving Woodstock for ‘Dream Job’

Pentangle Executive Director Sunni Fass, center, chats with some of the people who attended a reception in her honor on Nov. 20, 2011, at the Blue Horse Inn in Woodstock, Vt. (Valley News - Polina Yamshchikov)

Pentangle Executive Director Sunni Fass, center, chats with some of the people who attended a reception in her honor on Nov. 20, 2011, at the Blue Horse Inn in Woodstock, Vt. (Valley News - Polina Yamshchikov)

Pentangle Arts Council’s Executive Director Sunni Fass plans to depart at the end of November. Supporters of the Woodstock-based nonprofit arts organization can take heart that it took a dream job to pry Fass away.

“I’m happy about this other opportunity,” Fass said, “but I’m sad to be leaving Pentangle.”

The Pentangle board of trustees credits Fass with turning the organization around over the past two years, eliminating a budget deficit and refocusing Pentangle on its core mission of arts education.

When she arrived, not long after Tropical Storm Irene, Pentangle was reeling from the weak economy. “I definitely came to Pentangle at a challenging time for the organization,” she said.

During her tenure, Pentangle installed digital projectors in Woodstock’s Town Hall Theatre, ensuring the venue’s continued viability as a cinema. The digital conversion also made it possible for Pentangle to start showing live performances from London’s National Theatre this year.

In addition, Pentangle is collaborating with the Vermont Symphony Orchestra to bring a summer performance to the Suicide Six ski area in South Pomfret. The partnership “puts both organizations in a better spot to share the success of the event or absorb the loss” if bad weather or other factors diminish ticket sales, Fass said.

Pentangle has also taken over as the presenter of the annual Bookstock literary festival and is developing partnerships with other Woodstock-area arts organizations, Fass said.

Fass also went out and talked to community members and donors , and sought out arts presenters at lower cost.

“A lot of it was looking for efficiencies in what we do,” Fass said of closing the gap in the organization’s annual budget, which currently stands at around $500,000. “Some of it was just looking at the cost of the events that we put on.”

The organization ran budget deficits in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 fiscal years, ranging from a high of $65,000 in 2010 to $36,000 last year, according to tax documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service. In the most recently completed fiscal year, which ended April 30, Pentangle ran a surplus of $18,500, Fass said.

Executive director is the lone full-time job at Pentangle, which also has 12 to 15 part-time employees who do everything from taking phone calls to selling popcorn on movie nights at Town Hall.

Pentangle turns 40 next year and the trustees have begun a strategic planning effort that will likely lead to a capital campaign centered on the anniversary, said Keri Cole, chairwoman of the organization’s board of trustees.

Fass’s biggest achievement was “righting the financial ship,” in Cole’s view. “She’s been a great boon to the organization,” Cole said. “She’s leaving us on a great trajectory.”

Fass is leaving to become executive director of the Lotus Education and Arts Foundation in Bloomington, Ind. She has been involved with LEAF since 2001 and made it the core element of her doctoral dissertation, in ethnomusicology at Indiana University. LEAF’s mission is “To create opportunities to experience, celebrate, and explore the diversity of the world’s cultures through music and the arts.” It runs a yearly world music and culture festival, now 20 years old and stretching over five days.

“It was one of those once-in-a-career opportunities,” Fass said.

Cole said Pentangle would start to advertise for a new director in the next week or two and that the board has its eye on a few people in the area who could serve as interim directors. Fass will help with the search for her replacement and will be available to consult with whoever steps in.

“She wants to make sure her replacement is in good stead,” Cole said.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3219.