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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.

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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.