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Suffolk Center prepares for leadership transition

The Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts on Friday announced the retirement of Susan Babiy Lawrence, SCCA’s executive director and chief executive officer. Lorelei Costa will be taking over her leadership.

There will be a special virtual welcome at 5 p.m. March 18, as Lawrence introduces Costa to members, supporters and the arts community during the “Walk on the Wild Side” live stream art opening.

Costa is from Dare County, N.C., where she served for eight years as executive director of the Outer Banks Community Foundation. According to a press release, under her leadership, the foundation almost tripled in size, in both annual grant-making and endowment. Recently, Costa led relief efforts in the Outer Banks during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping hundreds of families with child care and educational needs during remote learning, and in 2019 after Hurricane Dorian, raising more than $1.5 million in the weeks after the storm, rebuilding hundreds of households across Ocracoke and Hatteras.

Costa graduated from UNC Chapel Hill and earned her certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. Her career includes work for conservation organizations in both North Carolina and Alaska, where she lived for seven years.

Being a lifelong classical pianist and choral singer, she is thrilled to be joining a community-based arts organization. Quoting pianist Igor Levit, Costa believes in the “existential must of music-making” and in the healing and spiritual power of all art, especially during times of community and personal hardship.

Costa sees an amazing future for the Suffolk Center as communities rebuild from the challenges of 2020, and is honored to join the creative team of volunteers and professionals at the Center this spring. Both Lawrence and Costa are eager to work together to create a smooth transition over the next few months.

According to a press release, Lawrence was hired as the Suffolk Center’s first employee in 2001 and assisted with the transformation from the old Suffolk High School into the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. She left in 2004 but returned as development director in January 2009. In May 2018, Lawrence stepped in as interim executive director following the retirement of Jackie Cherry and accepted the permanent position as the executive director in July 2018.

“I have tremendously enjoyed the experience of driving this great organization,” said. Lawrence. “Together with the Center’s team and board, we accomplished much, reaching new heights in programming, attendance, outreach and community engagement, which resulted in positioning the Suffolk Center as a multi-faceted regional arts leader. Over the last year, we have navigated our ‘new normal’ by virtually reinventing our performances, art openings, and hosting our first virtual fundraiser. We have kept the community participating in the arts at amazingly staggering numbers.”

Lawrence believes that this is the right time for a new leader as the Suffolk Center emerges from the pandemic-driven intermission. In fall 2020, the Board began its search for a new executive director.

“Susan Lawrence has led the Center through some excellent times, with outstanding exhibits and performances put together by her and her staff,” said Dr. Joe Verdirame, Suffolk Center chairman of the board. “She has expanded the educational outreach tremendously. Then when the COVID epidemic caused so much upheaval, she was able to shift gears, and guide the Center in a new direction. She never missed a beat, and the Center will emerge from the pandemic stronger because of her leadership.”

Lawrence is confident in Costa and feels that she will do an exceptional job in her new role as the Center’s executive director. She admits that for her, this transition is bittersweet.

“It has been a real joy for me to play an instrumental role in birthing and raising a child — the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts,” she said. “From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for allowing me to be a part of the Suffolk Center’s journey. I will remain a committed supporter, dedicated advocate and no stranger to its halls.”