Fund for the Arts Board Takes Action on Cowen, Will Update Strategic Plan

by Gabe Bullard on March 5, 2011

The board of the Fund for the Arts has taken action against president and CEO Allan Cowen. Cowen will remain in his current position, but a statement from the board released Saturday says the body acted swiftly to ensure that Cowen’s behavior is professional and appropriate.

The action stems from a voicemail Cowen left the director of the Louisville Visual Art Association last month. The message allegedly threatened the director’s job over a letter that appeared in Business First. In the letter, the director and others wrote that many visual arts groups do not receive money from the Fund for the Arts. Cowen has apologized for his actions.

Board chair Ronald Murphy declined to give any details on what action was taken against Cowen. Cowen also declined to elaborate. Murphy further says the need for funding for arts groups always exceeds the fund’s means, and reiterated that Cowen does not distribute the money.

The board has also announced that it will immediately begin putting together a new strategic plan that could lead to more groups receiving funding.

Murphy says Cowen’s actions may be related to the review, but they are not the sole reason for it.

“There hasn’t been a new strategic plan in a long time,” he says, later adding, “It’s not about Allan anymore.”

The full statement:

The arts and culture community in Louisville is the pride of every citizen of Louisville as well as Kentucky, and the envy of many other cities. The Board of the Fund for the Arts could not have been more disappointed in the inappropriate exchange between Fund for the Arts CEO and President Allan Cowen and the Louisville Visual Arts Association. Mr. Cowen’s actions were wrong, inexcusable and showed a severe lack of judgment. For these actions he has apologized and the Executive Committee of the Board has acted swiftly with a thorough review that has resulted in appropriate personnel action to ensure that Mr. Cowen’s behavior from this point forward is both professional and appropriate for that of a public figure of his stature.

These Board actions also ensure that Mr. Cowen’s 32-years of accomplishments – including raising over $150 million – can be built upon for an even more robust asset for our citizens. These accomplishments truly make Louisville one of America’s best places to live, work and raise our families.

It is the role of the Board – not Mr. Cowen and the Fund staff – to allocate Fund dollars to member organizations. Regrettably, the needs of organizations in the arts community always seem to exceed contributions. These difficult allocation decisions will continue to be made by Board members, who are civic, corporate and community leaders with a true passion for the arts.

While the board has chosen to move forward and support Mr. Cowen in continuing his role as President, we have also learned lessons through this experience and intend to institute changes that build the framework and momentum to continue to provide financial support to a diverse group of arts organizations based on need, fairness and their demonstration of a strategic plan, and to protect the integrity and independence of the individual arts organizations. We intend to immediately begin an inclusive review and strategic planning process that includes both members and non-members of our arts and culture community, broadens our appeal, listens to the community, increases our donor base and fulfills the desires of a well-deserving community.

To that end, we urge everyone to once again pull together to support the 2011 Community Campaign that makes our community unique and brings joy, enlightenment and entertainment to our citizens of all ages.

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