Fund for the Arts CEO Says Support Remains Strong After Cowen’s Departure

by Gabe Bullard on June 8, 2011

After a tumultuous start to the year and with its city grant in danger, the Fund for the Arts will wrap up its annual fundraising campaign this month.

The year started with complaints about long-time CEO Allan Cowen’s interactions with arts groups. Cowen was a skilled fundraiser, but his successor Barbara Sexton Smith says his departure hasn’t hurt fundraising.

“It’s an institution with a broad web of connections and it wasn’t just one person, although Allan was very successful and led us very well. The good news is here we stand 10-11 weeks later and we’ve not skipped a beat,” she says.

Then, last month, Mayor Greg Fischer encouraged arts agencies that receive money from the city to find a “Plan B” for next year. That’s led many artists and patrons—but not Smith—to wonder whether there’s enough community support for the arts.

“There are 587,000 paychecks in our metropolitan service area…587,000,” she says. “Only 24,000 of those paychecks are participating in the Fund for the Arts through our payroll deduction. So, is there any more money to be raised in this town? How much more? There’s a whole lot more.”

Smith says the fund’s $100,000 city grant likely isn’t in danger, but a backup plan will be put together after the current fundraising campaign ends.

“The Fund for the Arts always goes to bed on June 30th and we wake up on July 1st and hit the ground running reviewing the past year’s results and developing news strategies for the coming year. Now, when will that review be completed? I’m not sure.”

Smith says she’s had several conversations with Fischer and would like to find new ways for Metro Government and arts agencies to work together.

After the fund’s campaign ends on the 30th, the fund will begin a reorganization. As complaints against Cowen piled up this year, so did criticism that the group supported performing arts more than visual arts. Smith says that will be reviewed next month

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