Sue Donaldson was almost as instrumental to An Occasion for the Arts as the artwork itself. A founding member of Williamsburg’s premier arts festival, Donaldson referred to herself as a “professional volunteer” given the number of roles she served over five decades.
Donaldson died May 7, 2021. An Occasion for the Arts (AOFTA), which will be held in Merchants Square Oct. 2-3, will rename its information booth in her honor. The festival is in its 53rd year.
“Sue was just so devoted to An Occasion for the Arts and arts in Williamsburg,” said Nancy Wigley, President of the AOFTA Board. “She was an icon in our community.”
Donaldson was something of a walking encyclopedia of AOFTA, having contributed heavily to the festival’s 50 th anniversary celebration in 2018.
“Sue had all the programs; she had them all except for the very first year,” Wigley said. “She and my mother created a mailing list of donors of who to invite to the 50 th Gala. Her knowledge was tremendous.”
Donaldson spent decades collecting art, favoring the western United States where her two daughters, Kiki and Jennifer, reside. She also has a son, Ken, in Columbia, Missouri.
“She was always scouting in our travels,” said her husband, John. “When she saw something that particularly struck her attention and if we thought we could afford it, we would sometimes acquire it. She had a good eye for graphic art. My eye leaned toward sculpture. So we have mainly graphic art!”
Donaldson’s favorite stops included Vancouver, where she bought her first stone carving of a bear, the start of her unique bear collection. She loved to visit galleries during her travels, particularly the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
She held leadership positions with the Williamsburg Contemporary Art Center (WCAC) and, as a long-term member of the Exhibitions Committee, arranged showings of artistic works. She was a representative on the Williamsburg Area Arts Commission.
Donaldson initially started volunteering in the food tent at An Occasion for the Arts. She served as artistic director, president and “held about every job there was,” John Donaldson said. “She served continuously. I cannot remember a period in my recallability when she did not have board meetings. She was ultimately given the title of Corresponding Secretary. She became the institutional memory of An Occasion for the Arts.”
It was Donaldson who introduced Janis Wood to An Occasion for the Arts. The women met at an event at the William and Mary Law School in 2011. Donaldson encouraged Wood to volunteer for the Century Art Gallery, which today is the WCAC, where Wood is President and Acting Treasurer on the Board of Directors.
“Throughout the 10 years that I knew Sue, she was my go-to person when I needed advice or help,” Wood said. “She never said no. She was a tiny lady, but oh, so mighty, and full of positive energy. I felt nothing but love and admiration for her since I got to know her.”
When Donaldson downsized a few years ago, she donated several pieces to the WCAC and to the annual auction held by Child Development Resources (CDR), another nonprofit she supported. Wigley, Special Events Coordinator at CDR, toured her home during that time and is
grateful to have snagged a leather rooster that used to belong to Donaldson. The treasured piece occupies her mantle.
It was Wigley who suggested renaming the information booth in honor of Donaldson.
“She was always there with her husband,” Wigley said. “They were ambassadors. If you ever wanted to find Sue, she was likely going to be there.”
This year, no doubt, Donaldson will be there, too — in spirit.