Arts and Humanities Local News

Ballet Balances Aesthetics and Finances in Next Season

To deal with the economic downturn and uncertain revenues, the Louisville Ballet is selling its building and dropping one show and three dancers from its next season. As the ballet faces its future, it’s dealing with a choice many performing arts organizations are struggling with…modern or classic.

Orchestras and ballets in many cities want to attract younger audiences with contemporary or avant garde performances. But the companies also need to appeal to traditionalists who regularly attend performances.

Louisville Ballet Artistic Director Bruce Simpson says audiences in Louisville have come to expect both types of shows, but it’s hard to compare their success.

“In a lot of instances, we’ve seen our ticket sales go up or go down, and it’s depended a lot on the economy. I’ve always wanted a crystal ball to figure that out, but it really depends on what else is on in town,” he says.

Simpson says as a classical company, the Louisville Ballet must have a number of traditional shows to keep the dancers in shape and ready for the annual Nutcracker performance.

Arts and Humanities Local News

BOB Opens Saturday at Actor’s Theater

The seventh and final play of this year’s Humana Festival of New American Plays is set to debut this weekend.

The play is a comedy called Bob. The playwright is Peter Sinn Nachtreib. He’s based in San Francisco, but the inspiration for the play came on a previous visit Nachtreib paid to Louisville. While walking down Market Street, he got the idea for a character named Bob who’s life journey begins when he’s born and left behind in the bathroom of a Louisville White Castle.

“He is fortunately saved and raised by a White Castle employee who takes him on a roadtrip across the country” says Nachtrieb, “to all the historical sites where he becomes sort of obsessed with monuments and plaques and makes it his lifelong dream to be on a plaque himself.”

Bob has a preview performance Friday at 8:00. It opens Saturday afternoon at 4:00 at Actors Theatre.

Arts and Humanities Local News

Ballet Making Cuts, Selling Building to Overcome Debts

Shorter seasons, fewer dancers and property sales are all steps the Louisville Ballet is taking to remain solvent.

Like many other arts organizations, the ballet has suffered from rises and falls in ticket sales, donations and corporate sponsorships in the last few years. The company’s next season will feature four shows, rather than five, and at least two dancers have been cut. The ballet is also selling its building to the Fund for the Arts, then leasing it back.

“The only asset of true value we had is the building,” says board chair Cheryl Balkenhol. “It’s unfortunate that 20 some-odd years of slight budget overruns year over year has hurt us and got us into this situation.”

Balkenhol says with those precautions, the ballet is not at risk of bankruptcy, though deeper cuts or further financial troubles would put the ballet’s future in question.

“We feel very strongly that we want to be a producing organization and we want to be a professional company, which requires four productions a year and dancer contracts that are at least 30 weeks. I’m not sure that if we cut more we could do that. I don’t think it’s required to cut more, but if something should happen and we were to face that, I think we would be having different conversations.”

Balkenhol says the ballet and will likely run a deficit this year, but the new austerity measures are designed to give the company a surplus next year.

Balkenhol says the ballet is also looking into ways to improve ticket sales by attracting younger audiences. But she says modern performances have not been as successful as classics. WFPL will have more with the ballet’s artistic director later this week.

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.”

Arts and Humanities Local News

“The End” Opens at Humana Festival

The End is coming to the Humana Festival of New American Plays. Not the end of the festival—it lasts until April. But the latest play to debut at the festival is an apocalyptic romp titled is The End. It features various calamities involving asteroids, aliens, zombies and Hollywood celebrities.

Amy Attaway is co-director of The End.

“Ultimately the play is really about people and how people deal with the idea of impending doom. The idea of the end approaching at varying speeds and by varying methods. It’s really about how people handle that,” he says.

Other plays in this year’s festival were submitted to Actors Theatre by individual playwrights. But for The End, Actors Theatre commissioned five different playwrights to create the script as a vehicle for the theatre’s acting apprentice company.

One other way The End is not like other plays in this year’s Humana Festival: The start time. The End takes the stage Friday and Saturday at 11:00 at Actors Theatre.

Arts and Humanities Local News

Burnside Says Reaction to Fund for the Arts Letter Has Been Surprising

One of the authors of a letter that led to a storm of protests against the Fund for the Arts says she’s surprised by the reaction.

Frazier History Museum Executive Director Madeleine Burnside, Speed Museum Director Charles Venable and Visual Art Association Director Shannon Westerman wrote a letter to Business First pointing out that visual arts organizations receive little to no money from the fund.

“That was the whole point,” says Burnside. “Really, the reaction I’m most surprised about, because, I don’t think if you read the letter, it said anything engative about either the fund or about Allan. So the reaction I’m really surprised about is that Allan took it so personally.”

After the letter was published, fund CEO Allan Cowen allegedly threatened Westerman’s job in a voicemail. That prompted a number of members of the visual arts community to call for Cowen’s dismissal. When the board disciplined the CEO instead, a protest was held outside of the fund’s offices.

Burnside says she doesn’t have an opinion on the protests.

“I personally have only had pleasant and positive dealings with Allan. It was never about him until he took it so personally,” she says.

Burnside says her concern is with how the fund distributes money. She says the organization should distribute it evenly among performing, visual and other types of arts and the fact that the fund more heavily supports performing arts should be widely known

The Frazier does not receive money from the Fund for the Arts. The Visual Art Association does.

Arts and Humanities Local News

Demonstrators Call for Cowen’s Resignation

Several dozen arts and art supporters picketed outside of the Fund for the Arts headquarters in downtown Louisville Friday.

Most of the demonstrators were producers or patrons of visual arts. They were calling for the dismissal of fund CEO Allan Cowen, who allegedly threatened the job of the director of the Visual Art Association in a voicemail last month.

Longtime artist and former association board chair C.J. Pressma said the voicemail is typical for Cowen.

“Allan is an autocrat. He’s nasty. He abuses people verbally and he is a manipulator,” said Pressma.

But gallery owner and visual art board member Paul Paletti said the demonstration was also meant to bring attention to what he says is inequity in the fund’s allocations.

“One of the main points for us is the visual arts as a whole receive less than 3% of the annual budget of the Fund for the Arts and it basically ignores an entire segment of the arts spectrum,” he said.

Board members issued a statement last week saying they, not Cowen, distribute the money, and that Cowen was disciplined for the voicemail, though board members and Cowen have declined to elaborate. Board chair Ron Murphy told WFPL last week that he had not heard widespread complaints about Cowen.

Cowen’s supporters tout his fundraising skills, but the demonstrators say they won’t give up until the CEO is fired or resigns.

Members of Squallis Puppeteers (who are not funded by the FFTA)Fund officials repeated a response to the protest issued Thursday. They say they appreciate the exercise of free speech and hope people continue to give to the fund.

Arts and Humanities Local News

Calls for Fund for the Arts Leadership Changes Continue

Arts and arts advocates will gather outside of the Fund for the Arts headquarters Friday for a demonstration.

The protest is meant to encourage the fund’s board to fire CEO Allan Cowen. Cowen threatened the job of the director of the Louisville Visual Art Association in a voicemail last month after the director and others criticized the fund for giving little or no money to visual arts groups.

The board issued a statement last week saying Cowen was reprimanded and will behave more appropriately in the future. Visual Art Association board chair Benton Keith says that’s not enough. He says he’s heard from colleagues who are equally upset.

“People are going to quit giving. They’ve already withdraw their pledges or decided to stop payroll deduction until change in leadership at the fund occurs.”

Keith is attending the demonstration, but he did not organize it. Artist and gallery owner Craig Kaviar did. He recently wrote a letter criticizing the fund’s allocation methods, too. Cowen was not available for comment. Fund officials issued a statement saying they appreciate the protesters’ rights to free speech and they hope people continue to support the fund. They did not respond to Benton’s claims about decreased donations.

Arts and Humanities Local News

Artists, Advocates to Protest Fund for the Arts

Artists and arts advocates, who have been outspoken about his frustrations with the Fund for the Arts CEO Allan Cowen, will demonstrate outside the fund’s offices later this week.

Complaints about Cowen have increased after a message he left the unsatisfied director of the Louisville Visual Art Association became public.

The protest is being organized by artist and gallery operator Craig Kaviar. It will be held from 4:30 to 5:30 pm on Friday.

Arts and Humanities Local News

Speed Museum to Review Collection, Sell Some Pieces

Louisville Speed Art Museum officials have launched the first comprehensive review of the Museum’s 14,000 piece collection in 83 years.

It’s part of several initiatives aimed at improving the collection and better engaging visitors.

Other initiatives include expanding the museum and building a new north building with gallery, performance and event spaces as well as a piazza and outdoor art park. Renovations on the first phase which include a new driveway begin in May.

The museum will also continue its programming including the Speed Concert Series and Art Sparks which is an interactive education center.