Buddy Palmer retires as CEO of Create Birmingham after 13 years—a look back on his career

Buddy Palmer in front of the Alabama Theatre
Buddy Palmer, a trailblazer for several of Create Birmingham’s big initiatives, is retiring as CEO after 13 years with the organization. Photo via Create Birmingham

Buddy Palmer is stepping down as CEO of Create Birmingham after 13 years with the cultural nonprofit. He joined the team, which is the only local agency exclusively focused on the city’s creative industries, in 2008 and is responsible for many arts initiatives, events and community projects we benefit from today.

Buddy Palmer helped kick-start + lead many of our city’s best features

Buddy Palmer at Sidewalk Film Festival
Buddy Palmer at Sidewalk Film Festival. Photo via Create Birmingham

If you’ve ever enjoyed an almond croissant from Bandit Pâtisserie or a Gulf Coast IPA on Ghost Train Brewing’s deck, you can partially thank Buddy Palmer. The owners of these establishments are graduates of CO.STARTERS, a business launching program for creative entrepreneurs.

Buddy’s three-decades worth of experience working in the creative field allowed him to be instrumental in developing programs like this, and many more, during his time with Create Birmingham.

He and his team are active advocators for the city’s arts, whether that looks like boosting Birmingham’s film industry through Film Birmingham or helping local creatives find the resources they need during a crisis like COVID-19.

“It really has been the privilege of my working career—these past 13 years to work with a fantastic Board of Directors. I am so fortunate. A lot of nonprofit leaders don’t even have the opportunity to work with as many really terrific board members as I have.

We have a small board but they are mighty, and they are so passionate and committed to the mission. And, and nobody on our board sits on the sidelines to build a resume. They are in the trenches with us in terms of government policy, fundraising and program building and are such a huge support to the team.”

Buddy Palmer

Why Birmingham?

Buddy saw potential and he stayed to make sure that potential came to fruition.

“I think if I have a talent, it is being able to understand communities and to get to know the people in those communities—what their needs are and to look for ways to fill gaps.”

Buddy Palmer

In fact, Buddy helped establish the brand, “Create Birmingham” after leading a research study for economic growth in the Magic City. The organization was formerly known as the “Cultural Alliance,” but expanded in 2014 to include a new name, mission and focus on stewardship of the creative economy.

However, he didn’t come into the job with the city you see today. He joined Create Birmingham in 2008 during one of the worst recessions of our lifetime to date. Despite the warning signs or challenges laid out in front of him, Buddy saw something in Birmingham.

“I saw so much possibility in this community that was intriguing to me. I thought one organization could really be a partner in the energy that was developing here and so that was very exciting to me—the idea that I might be able to come in and help the organization and make a difference in the community.”

Buddy Palmer

The differences Create Birmingham made + Buddy’s favorite memories

It’s hard to water down a massive 13-year career in a few bullet points. But we wanted to know some of the really high points in Buddy’s career. Here are just a couple that stick out.

Partnership with Birmingham City Schools

Create Birmingham held a four-year partnership with Birmingham City Schools through a Federal US Department of Education Grant. It was important and rewarding work for Buddy.

“We had the opportunity to do some really substantive work around arts education and artists residencies in schools. And we still hear about ripple effects from that work.”

Buddy Palmer

Step Forward

In 2013, Create Birmingham had a commemorative effort for the 50th anniversary of Birmingham called Step Forward.

1963 was a seminal year in the Civil Rights Movement—the year of the Children’s Crusade, the 16th Street Church Bombing, the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and more happened during this time.

“Step Forward was a leadership training forum around anti-racism. I think it was really life-changing for a lot of the people who participated. Still to this day, I had people comment to me about what it meant in their professional and personal lives.”

Buddy Palmer

Believing in a vision for Birmingham + working with those who do too

Then, what branded Create Birmingham as Create Birmingham—the creative industry study in 2014. The development of the study, “Stoking Innovation in the Magic City: Birmingham’s Creative Industries” became a roadmap for the organization’s future plans. 

Local funders believed in the vision before it came to life and supported Buddy’s efforts in publishing the report.

“That was a real turning point for us as an organization. Also, it’s that everyday satisfaction of seeing talented, resourceful, passionate people living out their dreams. They step out in risk and in trust and just go for it.”

Buddy Palmer

Amazing partners

Finally, Buddy can’t forget the stellar list of strong arts and culture nonprofit organizations in Birmingham that helped bring Create Birmingham’s mission to life.

“For a community the size of Birmingham, my colleagues in the nonprofit world here are just at the highest level. They are at the top of their game. They could be anywhere nationally, and they are such assets to the community. It’s been a privilege to work alongside them.”

Buddy Palmer

Goodbye, Buddy, and thank you!

The Bright Star
Thanks for helping fuel Birmingham’s creative industry, Buddy. Photo via Create Birmingham

The Magic City wouldn’t have its spark without the programs developed under the leadership of Buddy. With this much talent, we wanted to know what’s next for him. The answer is traveling—specifically to Portugal.

Although we’re sad to see Buddy leave, we agree Create Birmingham is prepared to keep making our city thrive.

“I am 1000% confident that the mighty team here will not miss a step and that our commitment to creatives here will continue without missing a beat.”

Buddy Palmer

What are your experiences with Create Birmingham? Share them with us on social at @BhamNow on Facebook and Instagram, or @Now_Bham on Twitter.

Irene Richardson
Irene Richardson
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