Scottsdale Arts embarks on new chapter following resignation of CEO

The Scottsdale Cultural Council — which is now known as Scottsdale Arts — is at 7373 E. Scottsdale Mall on the second floor. (file photo)

Former Scottsdale Arts President and CEO Neale Perl tendered his resignation effective Friday, Oct. 6.

Neale Perl

Officials close to the situation say the resignation was amicable. Meanwhile, Scottsdale Arts — which is a separate 501(c) organization tasked with carrying out the day-to-day tasks of implementing cultural offerings citywide — is in its final year of a 10-year agreement with the city of Scottsdale.

In fiscal year 2017-18 Scottsdale Arts is carrying a total operating budget of $10,982,632 compared to a year earlier when that number peaked at $11,229,304, according to the fiscal year 2017-18 adopted budget approved by Scottsdale City Council.

The No. 1 expense for the organization is payroll. Records show employee salaries and benefits accounted for $5,700,707, while artist fees totaled $2,770,777 and administrative costs were $1,604,657 this fiscal year.
Scottsdale City Council gave Scottsdale Arts $4,648,687 this fiscal year.

Since 1987 Scottsdale Arts has been the advisory arm for all things arts and culture offered throughout Scottsdale. The organization is primarily led by its chief executive and a 22-member board of trustees, city officials say.

Scottsdale Arts facilities and efforts are:

  • The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, 7380 E. Second St.
  • The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 7374 E. Second St.
  • Scottsdale Public Art.

“We, the city, have a management agreement with the Scottsdale Cultural Council — doing business as Scottsdale Arts,” said Scottsdale Tourism Director Karen Churchard in an Oct. 10 phone interview.

“We have a management agreement and a fee and contract agreement, which is a 10-year agreement that is in its 10th year. Each year, the actual management fee is approved by the city council. It is my job to ensure Scottsdale Arts is doing the items in our agreement.”

Former Scottsdale Arts Board of Trustees Chair Mike Miller, who spent 11 years as president and CEO at Scottsdale Insurance Company, has been named interim CEO. Mr. Miller was on the Scottsdale Arts board for nine years.

Natalie Marsh has been appointed interim chief of operations and will be responsible for daily operations in addition to her ongoing responsibilities as director of education and outreach.

The board of trustees has formed a search committee to pursue a permanent CEO; however, Mr. Miller, the interim CEO of Scottsdale Arts, could not be reached for comment.

A picturesque view of the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. (File photo)

A quick curtain call

Stephen Baker, Scottsdale Arts director of marketing and communications, would not provide additional information on Mr. Perl’s departure, other than what was already provided through a press release.

When asked if Scottsdale Arts was meeting all tenets of the management agreement between the nonprofit entity and the municipality, Ms. Churchard replied, “absolutely, yes.”

“They are required to provide us a five-year strategic plan that is vetted with the public and provide an annual operation plan and report,” she explained of major items within the agreement she measures as the contract administrator.

“They provide updates to city council on activities they do under the management services agreement. We meet with them quarterly and our Parks and Recreation Department actually maintains the civic center mall where the arts venues are. We have a unique partnership, if you will, because the space is actually owned by the city.”

Ms. Churchard explains the relationship between Mr. Perl and city officials has always been professional and beneficial to both parties.

“From what I experienced, and I worked with a lot of their staff, I enjoyed working with Neale,” she explained of the working relationship. “I met with a lot of the directors for the staff on day-to-day operations, but they absolutely were manged by Neale and Neale reported to his board of trustees — that is ultimately who his boss was — not the city of Scottsdale.”

Mr. Neale who declined to comment for this article, said “I really don’t have anything to add to the story that hasn’t already come out,” he told the Independent.

Kathy Wills

Kathy Wills, a Scottsdale Arts Board of Trustees member, will be heading up the search committee to replace Mr. Perl.

“Neale decided the time was right for him to pursue new opportunities. His relationship with the board was strategic and professional,” she said in an Oct. 11 statement to the Independent. “We were all driven by the same goals to ensure the long-term success of Scottsdale Arts and to bring diverse cultural experiences to the community.”

Ms. Wills says Mr. Perl had a positive impact on Scottsdale Arts during his time at the helm of the nonprofit successfully navigating a rebranding of the entity in recent months.

“Neale was a very focused leader and he did, indeed, have a positive impact on the organization,” she said.

“He led the process that successfully rebranded Scottsdale Arts from the Scottsdale Cultural Council to better define our mission and he designed and led a restructuring of the organization into a more efficient, streamlined business model. Achievements under his leadership also included increased attendance at Canal Convergence, SMoCA and the Center for the Performing Arts.”

Ms. Wills says the Board of Trustees will continue to offer the same guidance it always has.

“The Board of Trustees will continue its fiduciary role and the staff and leadership will continue managing the day-to-day operations of the organization,” she pointed out.

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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