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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 the director of the Visual Art Association was made public.
Cowen’s call followed a letter from the director and two others 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 those institutional changes, though the shift may create some short-term fundraising 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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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: