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Arts and Humanities Local News

Fund for the Arts Names Smith Permanent President, CEO

The Fund for the Arts board of directors announced today their unanimous decision to approve Barbara Sexton Smith as president and CEO of the organization. The decision follows a year-long search to replace former president Allan Cowen.

In a statement, board president David Calzi said the board was committed to finding the best candidate during their year-long search.

“Over the last twelve months it became increasingly clear that the right candidate was already leading the charge,” he said.

Smith has served as interim president since last April, following Cowen’s retirement. Cowen retired shortly after a public outcry over an intimidating voicemail he left for Louisville Visual Art Assocation director Shannon Westerman after Westerman signed a letter that Cowen perceived to be critical of his work.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

After Tumultuous Year, Fund for the Arts Prepares for Next Campaign

This week, the Fund for the Arts will launch its first fundraising campaign under new leadership.

Fund CEO Allan Cowen retired during last year’s campaign. He was accused of bullying certain artists and the fund was criticized for favoring performing arts over visual arts. Interim CEO Barbara Sexton Smith took over after Cowen left and is still at the helm. She expects to handle all of the campaign’s responsibilities until the search for a permanent CEO is complete.

“Our board is more engaged than ever,” she says. “I’m very pleased with the activity of our board members and I know they will get to conducting the search when the time is right but for the time being we are very focused on this audacious plan and this extreme goal.”

Visual artists said last year that the fund favored the performing arts for allocations. A review determined that the fund should be more relevant, innovative and evolutionary. Some steps have been taken to remedy that. For instance, if an arts organization finds a new business to make payroll contributions to the fund, that organization will get three quarters of all the money that business donates.

But the fund hasn’t addressed all of its critics. Artist Craig Kaviar recently called for ten changes to the Fund for the Arts in a letter to the organization’s leadership. A panel put together by the fund is reviewing the budget and allocation processes. Sexton Smith says the panel will suggest change during the campaign, and the fund will try to adjust.

“It’s an evolutionary process,” she says. “That’s the third thing the community asked of the fund was to be revolutionary and change with the times. So we will continue to evolve.”

The goal for this year’s campaign has increased 25 percent, to $9.2 million. The campaign kickoff is Tuesday at noon.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

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

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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Arts and Humanities Local News

Fund for the Arts Committee Discusses Search for New CEO

The executive committee of the Fund for the Arts board of directors met Tuesday to discuss changes in the organization that will follow CEO Allan Cowen’s retirement. The committee debated how best to replace Cowen, and whether the fund needs to consider further changes to how it operates.

Many of the complaints that surrounded Cowen in the weeks before he announced his retirement came from visual artists who said they are not as well-supported by the fund as performing artists. In response, the committee discussed whether to hold a retreat to rethink its mission.

Outside of the meeting, interim president Barbara Sexton Smith said she won’t have a hand in those decisions, but she’ll go along with whatever the board decides.

“Well I think change is the underlying substance of all reality, so obviously we always, as anyone else, look to improve upon an already solid foundation,” she said.

The panel also debated the best way to find a replacement for Cowen. Before the meeting, chair Ron Murphy said a national search may not be necessary.

“We have some referrals that people have sent to each other saying, ‘Oh do you know this person or that person?’ I think usually you’d kind of feel those out before you go out and get some headhunter somewhere to look for you,” he said.

Several members of the community spoke in favor of a national search that includes local candidates, such as interim president Barbara Sexton Smith.

Cowen also addressed the committee. He said he plans to pursue consulting work after retiring.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

Murphy Says Fund Campaigns Will Not Be Hurt by Cowen’s Retirement

The Chairman of the Board for the Fund for the Arts says CEO Allan Cowen’s impending departure will not likely hurt fundraising, because the campaign is largely run by other members of the fund’s staff.

Cowen will retire at the end of April, following increasing complaints about his behavior and the fund’s distribution of money. In a statement Monday, Murphy praised Cowen’s management of successful fundraising campaigns, and Tuesday, he said interim president Barbara Sexton Smith will be capable of taking over.

“The campaign is institutionalized at this point,” he says. “The running of the campaign over the last number of years, Barbara has really driven it. Allen has been involved in more niche arrangements and thinking and strategy discussions. It’s pretty well been run by the staff.”

Murphy and the fund’s executive committee met today (Tuesday). They discussed whether to conduct a national search for Cowen’s replacement, or interview local candidates first, as Murphy recommended. Several committee members favored a national search.