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Following a recent flap with Fund for the Arts CEO Allan Cowen and the Louisville Visual Art Association, a group of visual art leaders has begun publicly questioning how the fund distributes money, specifically to visual art groups.

From Insider Louisville:

When individuals and groups give to the fund they think that they are giving to all of the arts in Louisville, but most people are shocked to find out that all of the visual arts together receive only $203,749, which is 2.56 percent of the total budget. Is this a fair distribution of the limited art funding?

The Fund for the Arts board has reiterated that Cowen does not have a hand in distributing money, and the body has taken action to rebuke Cowen. Both Cowen and board chair Ron Murphy have declined to elaborate. The board has further said it will put together a new strategic plan that could lead to a change in how much money certain groups receive from the fund.

Recently, the chair of the Visual Art Association called for Cowen to be fired and questioned the value of the new strategic plan. Murphy says the board has already made its decision about Cowen.

For the second day in a row, Fund for the Arts CEO Allan Cowen has been featured in the pages of the Courier-Journal. On Thursday, it was a story about a threatening voicemail he left an unsatisfied arts group leader. Today it’s 396 words in the editorial section about that voicemail, and Cowen’s actions as a whole.

The paper praises Cowen’s creativity and strong faith in the arts. But then…

Among his flaws are a Brobdingnagian ego and a temper — perhaps effective for impresarios in the days of Flo Ziegfeld and Billy Rose, but woefully inappropriate in the 21st Century world in which Mr. Cowen operates.

That flaring ego was on full display — and preserved for all to hear — when he left a voice-mail message for the head of a local arts group who had co-written a letter toBusiness First, suggesting that while support of the Fund is vital many visual and cultural groups receive little or no funding. Shannon Westerman, who heads the Louisville Visual Art Association, was told by Mr. Cowen that he had gone “way out of line” and should be discharged. He threatened to talk to Mr. Westerman’s board chair, Benton Keith, to achieve the ouster. And he finished up: “Good luck in your future career.”

Well, for starters, Miss Manners would have been shocked and so are we. Verbal threats have no place in civilized situations; leaving them on a voice mail isn’t just uncouth, it’s downright stupid.

Elizabeth Kramer, who broke the story about the voicemail, will be on State of Affairs today. She’ll discuss her story in the show’s second segment, which begins at about 1:25.

by Graham Shelby

This is the final weekend for It Takes a Ville, the Actors Theatre of Louisville production put on in partnership with Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe. The show was created by Second City specifically for a Louisville audience.

It Takes a ’Ville is one in a series of what the Second City website refers to as “customized theatricals.”  Other shows the troupe has put together for theatres around the country include:

  • The Second City: Can You Be More Pacific? (Laguna Beach, California)
  • The Second City Does Arizona Or Close, But No Saguaro
  • The Second City Does Cincinnati: Pride and Porkopolis
  • Sex and the Second City
  • Rush Limbaugh: The Musical

Second City writers Tim Baltz and Ed Furman came to Louisville last year and embarked on a Louisville immersion tour. They spoke to local figures in politics, sports, media (including WFPL’s Gabe Bullard), the arts, business, etc. Afterward, they returned to Chicago to write, cast and mount the show.

One challenge the Second City faced in preparing It Takes a Ville is that the show is so Louisville-centric that no one in Chicago who watched the rehearsals got any of the jokes. It was only when the troupe performed in front of Louisvillians for the first time that they had a sense of whether or not the show could succeed.

And succeed it has. It Takes a Ville has exceeded projections for ticket sales for Actors Theatre.

The final performance is Sunday afternoon at 2:30.

The Fund for the Arts will kick off its annual fundraising campaign Tuesday. As reported on WFPL, the campaign begins at a time when many arts organizations are suffering. Fund CEO Allan Cowen says the organizations may need to rethink their size, though the fund will continue to support organizations as best it can. At one point in our interview, Cowen said if there were more money available to raise, the fund would likely have raised it.

The Louisville Orchestra’s musicians (Keep Louisville Symphonic) are not pleased with the Fund for the Arts. Kim Tichenor says the fund is neglecting its duties and took a swipe at Cowen’s salary, reported at more than $300 thousand (Cowen defends himself in the WFPL story). Tichenor also says Saturday’s Keep Louisville Symphonic concert raised $50 thousand.

See below for excerpts from the musicians’ statement:

Read the rest of this entry »

From WFPL:

The Louisville Orchestra has been granted an emergency payment to meet Monday’s payroll.

The orchestra has filed for Chapter 11, but last month a judge ruled that management must honor its contract with the musicians.

Last week, orchestra officials said they did not have enough cash on hand to pay the musicians beyond Monday. Rather than risk legal consequences, management sought to borrow funds from about two endowment accounts which total about $10 million.

In a statement released Friday, the orchestra said the request was granted, and the musicians will be paid with an advance on future earnings from the endowment investments. It’s not clear how much money was granted and how long that money will last. The funds will not only go to payroll, but also to other costs associated with continuing the season. The season continues through mid-May. The musicians’ contract expires two weeks later.

Management has sought to reduce the size and season length of the orchestra. The musicians say a smaller ensemble would not be successful, and have sought to close any budget gaps through increased fundraising efforts.

The musicians will play a concert not affiliated with the orchestra management Saturday at Ballard High School. The event is free, but donations to the players will be accepted.

Here is the official statement released by the orchestra:

Louisville, KY (January 28, 2011)… The Louisville Orchestra announced today that, in deference to the recent ruling of the Bankruptcy Court, it has sought and been granted emergency funding from the “Philharmonic Trust” and the Louisville Orchestra Foundation.  Each exist with independent boards and serve as separate legal entities from the Louisville Orchestra.  This support will enable the Orchestra to fund its next payroll on January 31.

The funding is provided as advances against future seasons’ endowment allocations, and was made possible, in part, due to the sharp rise in investment markets since December.  Issues concerning whether any additional funds can be obtained are continuing to be explored.

Community members who wish to support efforts to sustain live music and the Orchestra’s programs and services are encouraged to make donations exclusively through the Louisville Orchestra’s website (

Most stories about the Louisville Orchestra’s Chapter 11 filing mention the problems other orchestras are facing. The LO is struggling to make another payroll, and the Courier-Journal has a rundown of what other ensembles have done in similar situations.

NPR recently looked into the same thingSo did we.

A Baltimore Sun column this week deals with what the author calls “the anti-cultural crowd,” which is made up mostly of people who leave angry comments on news stories posted online.

For an example, the writer turns to Louisville…

I was reminded of this the other day, when I checked out a news report in a Kentucky paper about the troubled Louisville Orchestra, which has been sadly sliding into bankruptcy.

Here is a sample of opinions proudly posted by Louisville citizens:

An unpopular music genre doesn’t make a city ‘world class’ … The phrase ‘world class’ is a propaganda technique used by those who want to shove things down our throats.

Get rid of them, the Ballet and any other useless tax funded ‘entertainment’ that isnt self supporting.

Face it, this isn’t about the music. It is about Louisville being able to say, ‘We have an orchestra.’ Then all the old stuffed shirts go to the concerts to be seen by other old stuffed shirts. Boring. Hire some clowns to spice things up.

Pack up your fiddles and go home boys and girls. Maybe find real jobs. Go to Nashville and vie for some sessions work. If you are worth your salt you’ll survive there, maybe even flourish.

Sale all of assets to pay these people off, fire them all and get rid of the Orchestra. It isnt popular with the residents or they would have packed crowds and not have to worry about $$$.

This whole thing is stupid. The orchestra creates a product. That product has lost public appeal. Just like any business, this one needs to shut down. If your product isn’t selling there is no reason to continue in business.

Don’t feed the trolls.

(h/t LOMA Twitter)

Let’s file this in the “better late than never” folder

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts president Michael Kaiser‘s name has come up in several stories about the Louisville Orchestra. The musicians had tried to get Kaiser to visit Louisville to share his knowledge about running arts organizations.  Kaiser has turned around other ensembles, and it was thought that his insights would help the orchestra. The management and the musicians never agreed on Kaiser’s visit, and it didn’t happen. But late last month, Kaiser wrote a column for the Huffington Post.

It’s called What I Want for Christmas. Here are some highlights:

1. Board members of arts organization who remember their missions. While most arts organizations have missions that relate to bringing arts and arts education to their communities, many board members really believe that the missions of their organizations are to break even. They believe that cutting budgets and doing less is satisfactory as long as the budget is balanced.


2. Arts leaders who focus on training the next generation of arts leaders. We are nearing a dangerous point when an entire generation of arts leaders will retire.


3. Political leaders to remember that almost 6 million Americans are employed in the arts, that we are a main motivator of tourism and that we generate billions of dollars of economic activity.


4. Superintendants of schools, school board members and principals who remember that we live in an economy far different from the one when they were in school.


5. Arts organizations that are willing to work together on projects of great impact that surprise and enchant our communities. We are far too competitive with each other. Yet in many communities, we have failed to create broad visibility for our collective work. This hampers our fundraising and ticket selling activities.

The Louisville Orchestra musicians are not happy with the requests for cuts they say they were asked to take to keep the ensemble solvent. The administrators say they will not discuss the orchestra’s financial situation or details of the talks with musicians to save money, but the musicians will tell their story to opera patrons Friday. They sent the following statement:

The musicians will be delivering the positive, proactive message to patrons that they’ve attempted to deliver to their management, said the players’ negotiating committee chair, Kim Tichenor. “The musicians have offered to raise $375,000 ourselves. We’ve tried to immediately enlist the aid of Michael Kaiser, one of the nation’s top orchestra turnaround artists to come to Louisville. We have offered adjustments to contract terms. Yet every time we’ve offered a route out of our problems, our managers respond with delay or rejection.”

Instead, the orchestra’s management said the 74-year-old cultural icon could avoid bankruptcy only if the musicians agreed to cuts that would shave the number of players from 71 to 55, and the number of weeks in the season from 37 to 31. The remaining musicians would find their annual salaries cut to $28,675.

With this move, the musicians, who have had their last four contracts broken by the orchestra’s management, are turning to the public, according to Tichenor. “We’ve hoping that our friends who patronize the opera can help us convince our own managers to aspire to a higher cultural vision that will nourish all the city’s arts groups.”

The Louisville Orchestra’s musicians have broken the silence over ongoing contract negotiations.

Sources told WFPL last week that the ensemble was nearly broke. Musicians and administrators confirmed that they were indeed in talks about renewing the musicians’ contract (which expires next year), but would not say how dire the financial situation is, citing a mutual agreement to not negotiate through the media. CEO Robert Birman said bankruptcy was an option, as in previous years, but it would not be used as a threat in contract negotiations.

The musicians have now released a statement saying they’ve been told the ensemble needs $2 million, and they have been asked to:

  • Reduce the number of players from 71 to 55.
  • Accept a 20 percent pay cut
  • Play a 31-week season, rather than a 37-week season

The players say the cuts were presented as a necessity, and their suggestions for new fundraising efforts were rejected. They further allege that they’ve been told this week’s paycheck is their last, unless they accept the cuts. (Click here for their statement)

The administration is sticking to its original agreement. Birman sent the following statement to WFPL:

The Louisville Orchestra Board and Management are abiding by their pledge to not use the media as a tool in talks with the Orchestra’s musicians.  Talks are ongoing and all parties seek the same outcome; a long-term, sustainable path to a vital future for the Louisville Orchestra in order that it may continue to serve the Metro Louisville community with engaging concerts and the area’s leading educational programming.


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