U of L Optimistic Former Fund for the Arts CEO Cowen Will Help Build Downtown Presence

by Gabe Bullard on January 16, 2012

University of Louisville officials say former Fund for the Arts CEO Allan Cowen is the ideal person to develop the school’s downtown presence.

The university announced that it had hired Cowen’s consulting firm last week. The school has the option to buy city land on the former Museum Plaza site, and Cowen is looking into how and whether U of L could best use the space.

Cowen has been out of the public eye for nearly a year. He retired from the fund amid controversy over his brash demeanor with members of the arts community. U of L Provost Shirley Willihnganz says Cowen has the knowledge and connections the school is looking for, and she’s not worried about any burned bridges.

“Well if we had been horribly concerned about that we wouldn’t have hired him,” she says. “I think the fact that we’ve hired him would indicate that we have a set of values here and a set of expectations and we would certainly expect Alan would follow those as he’s working for us.”

Cowen is being paid $50,000 for six months of work. U of L has a year to decide if it wants the Museum Plaza land. Willihnganz says she’d like to give the school a presence downtown and a connection to the surrounding arts community. The potential is large, and Willihnganz says there haven’t been any talks about U of L combining forces with any arts groups.

“We’re really not at the point of partnering,” she says. “We’re at the point of: What are people thinking about and what could we do if we wanted to re-imagine the relationship between the university and the arts and culture community, and what might come out of that? That’s really what he’s doing right now.”

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