Imagination Stage founder stepping down as executive director

Imagination Stage founder stepping down as executive director

Bethesda-based organization starting search for Bonnie Fogel’s successor

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Bonnie Headshot

Bonnie Fogel

Photo from Imagination Stage

Imagination Stage Executive Director and founder Bonnie Fogel is stepping down in January and will take a part-time position with the Bethesda-based children’s theater.

Fogel’s move to a new position, with the title of Founder, will start on Jan. 1, 2021, according to a press release from the organization.

“It seemed like a very good time,” Fogel told Bethesda Beat Thursday afternoon. “It’s been 40 years.”

Fogel founded the organization in 1979 as Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts “in response to the urgent need for arts education for young people,” Imagination Stage’s website says.

In her new role, Fogel will oversee the organization’s government relations and its business and philanthropy connections. She will work on fundraising, institutional advancement and entrepreneurial endeavors, the press release said.

She also will work on two relatively new initiatives — the organization’s expansion into Washington, D.C., and a program it is starting this year with Whittle School and Studios.

Fogel said she still will do day-to-day work for Imagination Stage, including other duties “as assigned.”

She said that stepping down as executive director will give her a chance to do other things, such as writing and spending more time with friends and family in England, where she grew up.

Former Imagination Stage board President Jane Fairweather will lead a search committee to find a managing director. Others on the committee will represent Imagination Stage’s Maryland and D.C. boards.

The hiring process is scheduled for 11 months.

The managing director will co-lead the arts education organization and its theater with Founding Artistic Director Janet Stanford.

“It is impossible to overstate Bonnie’s dedication to Imagination Stage and the incredible skill and strategic thinking she brings to everything she does,” Imagination Stage board President Patrick O’Neil said in the press release. “This is a big step for this organization, so we are creating a deliberate and thoughtful process that reflects the importance of this moment.”

Fogel said the long timeline, typical in the performing arts world, allows at least a few months for people to apply, then a few more months for them to leave another job.

Imagination Stage is hoping a managing director will be hired soon enough to work with Fogel before she leaves her position.

Fogel said she had a succession plan in place for about 10 years. She has pondered stepping down for several years, “always trying to think about what’s best for the organization,” she said.

Before starting Imagination Stage, Fogel worked as an independent writer and journalist. In the United Kingdom, she worked for the retail chain Marks & Spencer.

Imagination Stage has grown from an after-school program serving 17 students to one of the largest youth-oriented arts organizations on the East Coast, reaching 100,000 children and families a year, the press release said. It now has a budget of more than $5.4 million and a full-time staff of 41.

Its main facility is a 40,000-square-foot building in Bethesda.

Editor’s note: See the March/April 2020 issue of Bethesda Magazine for an interview with Bonnie Fogel.

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