Fund for the Arts President and CEO Allan Cowen will retire early.
Cowen announced Monday that he will leave the organization on April 30. His retirement follows growing calls that he step down, which began weeks ago when an angry voicemail he left Visual Art Association Director Shannon Westerman was made public.
Cowen’s call to Westerman followed a letter the director and two others wrote which pointed out that the fund does not give as much money to visual arts as it does to performing arts groups. Visual Art Association board chair Benton Keith was among the loudest voices calling for Cowen’s dismissal. He says the retirement is welcome, but inequities still exist.
“What we really need to concentrate [on] is visual, cultural, performing arts. There’s no question, if you look at the allocation on an annual basis from the Fund for the Arts, there is certainly an emphasis on the performing arts,” he says. “I don’t think it’s one particular item that needs to change. It’s a whole bevy of items. And, again, I would put transparency at the top of that list.”
Keith says he hopes the fund’s new leadership makes the allocation process more open and more equal, though the shift may create short-term challenges.
“There’s definitely going to be some hurdles to overcome for this current campaign, but I do think, overall, in the future, that it could certainly help the arts community as a whole. It’s not just about the visual arts, it’s about all arts.”
Executive Vice President Barbara Sexton Smith will act as interim president when Cowen retires at the end of April. A search for a permanent replacement will begin this week. Cowen and fund board chair Ron Murphy did not return a call for comment, though Murphy released a statement praising Cowen’s 35-years of service and fundraising success.
“On behalf of the entire Louisville community, I want to thank Allan for his 35 years of outstanding service to our city,” said Ron Murphy, board chairman of the Fund for the Arts. “During his tenure, the Fund’s annual campaign on behalf of member arts groups grew from $600,000 to $8 million, and from 6,000 donors to 26,000. Fund for the Arts assets increased from $43,000 to over $25,000,000 today. The Brown Theatre, ArtSpace, Fund for the Arts Main Street and an endowment were all added during Allan’s tenure. Louisville is admired throughout the country for the quality and variety of our arts organizations. That is due in no small part to Allan’s leadership and effectiveness.”
“Working together for more than three decades, we’ve created amazing things in our arts community,” Cowen said. “I have been privileged to have been a part of this great community and to have worked with the thousands of artists, arts donors and arts lovers who make it a special place.”