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.

Local News Politics Uncategorized

Union Leaders Rally For Orchestra Musicians

Dozens of union members rallied this morning in front of the Fund for the Arts offices in support of the Louisville Orchestra musicians.

Orchestra players and management have been embroiled in a contract dispute for more than a year, and musicians have been idle since their last contract expired in May.

Leaders of the AFL-CIO, firefighters’ union, the UAW and others say they’re upset with the management’s plans to hire replacement musicians if an agreement cannot be reached. They’re also upset with the Kentucky Opera for bringing on replacements for its upcoming performances.

The unions are urging their rank and file to withhold donations to the Fund for the Arts, which allocated $1.3 million to the orchestra in fiscal 2010, until the dispute is resolved.

“We have one of the leading orchestras in the country here and I for one don’t want to see us lose it. We’ll be there with whatever we need to do to make sure they prevail, we will do it,” said Charles Clephas, vice-president of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council.

The unions also endorsed a report prepared by attorney Henry Fogel that calls on the Fund for the Arts and Mayor Fischer to convene a blue-ribbon panel to study the orchestra contract dispute and make recommendations to end the impasse. Fischer previously volunteered his chief of staff to lead talks between the two sides, but no agreement was reached.

Fund for the Arts Interim President Barbara Sexton Smith says the fund welcomes input from the unions and shares their desire for a resolution to the dispute.
(Photo by Amanda Donhoff)

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.

Local News

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

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.”

Arts and Humanities Local News

Fund for the Arts Turns to Crowdsourcing for Certain Projects

As part of its new strategy to update the allocation process, the Fund for the Arts has launched a new website.

Power2Give was developed in North Carolina. It’s modeled after sites like Kickstarter, but with a narrower focus. It lets nonprofits post proposals for arts and culture-related projects. Visitors to the site can then donate toward those projects.

The Fund for the Arts is working with the Metro United Way and LexArts to hone the pitches and to produce short videos for each project. For that, a small fee will be charged.

“The only percentage that stays with the fund is a normal 12 percent cost of general fundraising, web hosting, marketing and training,” says Fund for the Arts Acting President Barbara Sexton Smith. “So the fund is not set up to actually profit from the operation. We simply are covering our cost of covering the operation for these groups.”

Local News

Fund for the Arts Considers Changes

The Fund for the Arts’ annual campaign has ended and the organization’s energy will now turn inward, toward revising its mission and policies.

The shakeup at the fund started earlier this year, when CEO Allan Cowen retired amid a flurry of criticism over his brusque interactions with artists and arts groups. Much of the dissent came from visual artists, who say the fund doesn’t give them the money or attention they deserve compared to performing arts.

Cary Stemle wrote about the fund in a recent issue of LEO. He says the fund is taking a new look at how it operates. That could lead to a change in the funding process, or in the structure of the 70-member board.

“It’s kind of a who’s who of corporate people. Because it is a fundraising board, from an organization that runs employee contribution campaigns, they want people who can deliver the corporate money from their companies,” he says. “It’s kind of a balancing act between not changing that paradigm and opening it up to maybe non-corporate people like artists for example.”

The fund has also released a survey for artists and community members to fill out. Stemle says that will help guide the fund as it searches for Cowen’s successor.

“It has a lot of specific questions, but it also has open-ended questions that allow people to enter a narrative of their own, to be as candid as you like,” he says. “If people take anything from this story I’d like them to know about that survey. The people I talked to say this is significant that they’re open to this input.”

Fund board members have previously rejected many of the complaints that the board is too large and that the funding process is unfair or not transparent enough.

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

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.

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.

Arts and Humanities Local News

Cowen’s Retirement Won’t Address All Artists’ Complaints

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.

Murphy’s statement:

“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.”