A South African artistic director, arts administrator and educator has been named executive director of the Westport Arts Center.

Peter A.H. Van Heerden will assume the position July 1, succeeding Nancy Heller, who stepped down Jan. 31 to spend more time with her children.

Van Heerden has moved to Westport and will begin working on a transition, the center said. He brings to the job nearly 30 years experience in artistic and academic venues.

Lance Lundberg, president of the center's board, said in a statement that Van Heerden has the skills to lead the organization forward.

"We strongly believe that in Peter we have found an executive director who possesses the interpersonal and leadership qualities necessary to lead the arts center staff, partner with the board and make strong connections within our community," Lundberg said.

"I have complete confidence in Peter's ability to lead the arts center in fulfilling its mission to the community and achieving our shared vision for its future," he added.

As executive director, Van Heerden will be responsible for strategic direction of programming and for fundraising. He also will be responsible for special events, financial targets and cultivating relationships with community and business leaders.

"The Westport Arts Center is developing and implementing some of the most innovative and dynamic art and community based educational programs in Fairfield County and the greater surrounding metro area," Van Heerden said in a statement released by the arts center.

"As an advocate for arts and education, I am honored and excited to be part of such an amazing team devoted to the advancement of art in our community," he said.

Deanna Foster has been the center's interim executive director. She will work with Van Heerden on transition of leadership before he assumes full control in July, the center said.

Van Heerden founded the Erf 81 Cultural Collective in Cape Town, South Africa in 2004 and was its artistic director until 2010. The nonprofit organization helped artists, performers, historians, architects and others develop and produce projects in theater, art and new media.

In that role, WAC said, Van Heerden developed partnerships with sponsors and cultural organizations and secured funding for projects. He curated solo and group exhibitions and structured international collaborations.

Previously, Van Heerden had been a senior lecturer in live performance at the City Varsity School of Media and Creative Arts in Cape Town. He was involved in the accredited curriculum for professional acting for camera as well as community outreach programs.

He also was development director for School Environmental Education and Development in Cape Town, where he implemented school-based work programs and teacher training.

Van Heerden has a B.A. in drama and classical civilization from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, and a master's in theater and performance, cum laude, from the University of Cape Town.