WonderRoot chief Chris Appleton, under attack, resigns

Chris Appleton, founder and  HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Chris Appleton, founder and  HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Credit: Hyosub Shin

Chris Appleton, the embattled co-founder and executive director of the non-profit arts organization WonderRoot, has announced his resignation.

In an open letter posted online Feb. 7, Appleton was criticized by a group of artists and former WonderRoot employees, demanding his removal.

“To ensure WonderRoot can focus on its mission, Chris Appleton has voluntarily offered his resignation as executive director, which the Board has accepted,” said a statement from WonderRoot. “Chris will serve as an advisor to WonderRoot during his transition, including cooperating in the investigation.”

Appleton had already been placed on temporary leave by the  organization's board, as it pursued an investigation into the complaints against him.

On Monday the board released a short statement announcing Appleton’s resignation. “Chris will serve as an advisor to WonderRoot during his transition, including cooperating in the investigation,” said the statement.”

Appleton did not return requests for comment, nor did members of the board.

Related: Our podcast with Chris Appleton

Craig Kronenberger, who has served as the public face of the board during the investigation, said the statement seems to indicate that Appleton won’t return to his post at the conclusion of the investigation. “That’s the way I take it,” he said.

Kronenberger is president of Stripe Reputation, a “crisis and reputation management” company.

Olivia Greene-Knight, WonderRoot’s director of operations and finance, is serving as WonderRoot’s acting executive director.

In an open letter to the board, the signers of the Feb. 7 letter claimed “egregious and systemic harm that we have endured at the behest of Executive Director, Chris Appleton’s leadership.”

The letter writers claimed Appleton displayed “racism, classism, and heteropatriarchy,” “financial dishonesty” and “mismanagement of basic operations,” including “forcing staff to work in a building without AC or heat.”

The arts and advocacy organization has a long history in Atlanta. It is partially responsible for the mural on the King Memorial MARTA station, and recently helped coordinate the "Off the Wall" project, in which artists painted more than two dozen murals celebrating the city's civil rights legacy in downtown Atlanta and in historic neighborhoods in anticipation of the Super Bowl.

WonderRoot was founded in 2004, as a performance and studio space and a headquarters for the creative arts.

ExploreRelated: see our 2017 conversation with Chris Appleton

In 2014 the organization received a go-ahead from the city of Atlanta to move from its 4,000-square-foot Memorial Drive location to a 54,000-square-foot former elementary school on the same street.

In the statement released by the board, they thanked Appleton “for his more than 15 years of dedicated service and vital contributions to WonderRoot.”

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