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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.”

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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.

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Arts and Humanities Local News

LVAA Board Chair Says Cowen Reprimand Is Not Enough, Will Ask for Meeting With Fund’s Board

A local arts leader says action taken by the board Fund for the Arts to reprimand CEO Allan Cowen (cow-in) is not enough.

Cowen was rebuked for allegedly threatening the job of Louisville Visual Art Association director Shannon Westerman in a voicemail last month. Westerman and others had published a letter in Business First saying many visual arts groups receive little or no money from the Fund for the Arts.

Visual Art Association board president Benton Keith says Cowen should’ve been fired for his actions, because they’re part of a pattern of bad behavior.

“I know more people will come forward and what I’d like to do is continue to gather facts, and then I think it would be most appropriate to have a face-to-face meeting with the Fund for the Arts executive board, which I’m going to ask to do, once all the facts are gathered,” he says.

The chair of the Fund for the Arts board says he hasn’t heard the same complaints and the board has already made its decision about Cowen. A statement released Saturday says Cowen’s behavior will be professional and appropriate. Cowen did not return a call for comment.

Cowen’s supporters tout the CEO’s fundraising success. But Keith says a better-behaved CEO would do better.

“I think this community has the capability to give a lot more—a significant amount more—than it currently gives, especially to the arts organizations and folks have held back because of the current leadership,” he says.