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Cynthia Prost to step down as Arts and Education Council leader after 14 years

Arts and Education Council President and CEO Cynthia Prost will step down in July after leading the council since 2008.

Prost, who announced her departure Monday, plans to work as a strategic consultant for nonprofits. She said it’s time for a new leader to take over the organization.

“My philosophy is that these key leadership roles in our community really should have turnover,” Prost said. “I do feel like organizations like [the Arts and Education Council] benefit the most when you can attract the next generation and just different thought leaders into the role.”

Before joining the council, Prost ran the St. Louis Art Fair in Clayton and founded the now-defunct St. Louis Jazz and Heritage Festival. During her tenure, the organization has raised about $40 million for arts organizations. It has an annual budget of up to $3 million, three-fourths of which goes to grants and programs.

Cynthia Prost will step down as president and CEO of the Arts and Education Council in July. She led the organization for 14 years.
Arts and Education Council
Cynthia Prost will step down as president and CEO of the Arts and Education Council in July. She led the organization for 14 years.

Prost’s departure follows several high-profile leadership changes for arts organizations in the St. Louis area. Former Muny President Dennis Reagan announced his departure in 2020. Jazz St. Louis President and CEO Gene Dobbs Bradford will leave this month for Savannah, Georgia, to head the Savannah Music Festival.

Prost said the past two years have been difficult for arts organizations, as many have had to cancel performances or close their doors to help keep the coronavirus from spreading. Many have lost revenue because of declining ticket sales.

While Prost considers leading the organization through the pandemic to be her greatest achievement, she said the last two years have changed how local arts leaders and organizations operate in a post-pandemic world.

“I think the state of creativity is as strong as it's ever been, so the creative artists who make the work, I don't see that changing,” she said. “But the other piece of it is the structural constraints of the art sector, how we manage ourselves, how we present performances. I do think that the digital space is going to occupy more and more of people's thinking around how they're going to make the arts accessible to all.”

As CEO, Prost expanded the organization, notably through its purchase of the Centene Center for the Arts in Grand Center. The space houses 21 nonprofit organizations and office space for artists and organizations.

Curtis Cassel, chair of the council's board, will lead the search for her successor. He said in a statement that Prost will be remembered for her strong leadership.

“Her legacy is that she led [the Arts and Education Council] through a transformative change that will shape our work and this community for decades to come,” Cassel said.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.