Donna Sawyer has been named the CEO of the Baltimore Office of Promotion & Arts, the nonprofit that produces large-scale events in the city and funds arts programs.
Her appointment by Mayor Catherine Pugh comes just nine days before Artscape, the largest free arts festival in America and an event that has brought $30 million to Baltimore.
Sawyer’s selection ends a seven-month national search to replace Bill Gilmore, who served in the top post for nearly four decades before retiring in December.
“I would say she has big shoes to fill, but Bill’s shoes weren’t that big,” Pugh joked at a news conference announcing the appointment. “His legacy is big.”
Sawyer said she was game to live up to that legacy.
“As CEO of BOPA, I can contribute to the vibrancy and the future of our city by helping to make Baltimore a unique and wonderful place to live, create, work and plan,” she said. “I can’t think of anything better than getting to do that every single day.”
Sawyer became chief of external affairs at BOPA in 2017 and has held senior positions in the arts and nonprofits sector. Most recently, she served as the director of marketing and communications at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden before taking a few years off to write a novel, “Provenance.”
Sawyer also helped launch the Virginia Waterfront Arts Festival. She has served on several art panels – for the National Endowment for the Arts and on the YWCA Board of Directors – and has worked at the senior level in advertising, marketing and promotion positions.
“Her talents combined with our impressive BOPA team will provide greater opportunities for joint programs, projects and partnerships with local artists, the City of Baltimore, funders, affinity groups and arts service organizations,” said Anana Kambon, chair of BOPA’s board of directors.
Artscape will feature hundreds of artists displaying and selling their work as well as musical guests TLC, Toots & The Maytals and ZZ Ward.
“We have top talent, hot weather, we have good food and we have the best party in the city,” Sawyer said.