Cover Story: Lasting Influence

Who's made things happen in the arts over the past eight years?

Sep 1, 2004 at 2:06 pm

Since 1997, CityBeat has assembled a list of "arts influentials," people we've judged to be movers and shakers in the arts community. The list has become a much anticipated feature in our annual State of the Arts issue. We're quick to admit that the list is highly subjective, completely our own and not entirely scientific opinion.

In some years, to tell the truth, we overlaid a big filter and identified who we think ought to be influential. For instance, in 2000 we put local actress Dale Hodges in third place because we liked the way the veteran actress used her much deserved recognition toward some social activism. In 2002, we cited SSNOVA founder Emily Buddendeck because her funky visual arts venue — an off-the-beaten-path converted warehouse on Central Parkway — was making big waves. (Buddendeck has since left the organization, but its new organizers, who now call it The Mockbee, have sustained the path she established.)

More often we've tried to pick out those people who use their talent, their time or their ability to contribute financial support to make a difference in the world of the arts. Sometimes we use a choice to put someone on the hot seat: The notion of "Lead or step aside" has been our goal in quite a few picks. We've also included among our lists those people whose role in the community — most often as elected officials — might have an adverse effect on the world of the arts.

Generally, however, our list has been a chance to recognize people who've made a difference for the better or who we expected in the year ahead to do so. Of course, some have appeared multiple times (see page 30), and a few of them have left town. But most are still here and having an impact.

That means the lists since 1997 give us an interesting overview of what's been happening in the arts. Since CityBeat is marking its own 10th anniversary in 2004, it seemed like a good time to look back over the years and remind you of the people who have shaped what inspires us, entertains us and moves us. Today there's a common agreement among our city's leaders that the arts are one of our region's most valuable assets. That wasn't a consensus opinion a decade ago.

The people who lead CityBeat's arts influentials list since 1997 have made a difference. Here they are.

Businessman and arts philanthropist OTTO M. BUDIG JR. headed up the first list in 1997. We wrote: "He's everywhere. No other member of the local arts community offers the level of time and financial support that he does. Chances are you've crossed paths with him at numerous arts events ... you just didn't know it. Chairman of the Regional Cultural Planning Committee (RCPC), president of the Playhouse board, member of the Institute of Fine Arts and Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) boards."

Budig was in the No. 1 spot again in 1998. "Still the city's most influential yet least recognized arts patron," we wrote. "As chairman of the RCPC, the organization charged with forging the area's arts and cultural master plan, he will have a huge impact on he future of the arts in Cincinnati. President of the Playhouse board and member of the Institute of Fine Arts, CAC, Aronoff Center, Cincinnati Art Museum and Cincinnati Ballet boards. One of five $1 million donors to jump-start the new CAC building."

That year Budig said, "The cornerstone of our Regional Cultural Planning Committee effort is to understand the current condition of the arts and cultural community in the Tristate, to assess the economic and social impact of that cultural activity and to develop a shared vision for our region's arts and culture in the future. Clearly a vital component of that matrix is to determine the level of support which — predicated on the economic value to our community — far exceeds any other segment of community fiscal importance. Is there enough support for Cincinnati's growing arts community? I do not believe so, but the RCPC survey will quantify that answer."

Sad to say, the RCPC's efforts foundered over the issue of support, when funding couldn't be obtained to sustain the core recommendation of establishing an arts council-like entity, the Regional Cultural Alliance. (See Tom Neyer Jr., next page.) We reduced Budig's rank to 16th in 2000 when the RCA stumbled, but he remains a mover and shaker on many boards (we restored him to No. 3 in 2002), and his financial support of projects like the new CAC building and leadership on additional boards (such as the Covington's Carnegie Center) demonstrate that he's committed for the long haul.

In second place on CityBeat's first influentials list were RICHARD AND LOIS ROSENTHAL, names that were already familiar to many in town for their support of the arts. Of them, we said, "Probably the biggest movers and shakers behind the Playhouse, focusing on new plays and children's programs. Lois is treasurer of the Playhouse's board. Have also been big supporters of the CAC (their daughter is vice president of the CAC board). Richard is on the Institute of Fine Arts board. The Rosenthals, who run F&W Publications (the publisher of Writer's Digest and many others), are known and admired for their passion for innovative programming."

Since 1997, the Rosenthals have sold F&W and used the proceeds to do even more from the arts. They bought a deteriorated building on Liberty Street in Over-the-Rhine, once a cigar factory, and turned it into a showcase arts education facility, Uptown Arts, where neighborhood children can learn about art, drama, music and dance. They stepped up with a $5 million gift to the CAC, resulting in Zaha Hadid's attention-grabbing design being dubbed the Richard & Lois Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art. The Rosenthals also endowed a fund at the Cincinnati Art Museum which enabled free admission to all who care to visit. For their support and leadership, CityBeat ranked them No. 5 in 1998, No. 22 in 1999, No. 12 in 2000, No. 9 in 2001 and No. 3 in 2002.

Cincinnati's arts scene is also shaped by the corporate support provided by companies in the region, and none has played a larger role than our friends who make soap and more, THE PROCTER & GAMBLE COMPANY. In 1999 we named then president and CEO Durk Jager as No. 1, noting, "For many years, P&G has influenced the arts — not only with funding, but by placing its professionals on lots of boards. This year the company's Numero Uno is chairing the Fine Arts Fund's 50th anniversary campaign, bringing some Teutonic management skills and P&G's marketing savvy to the effort to raise more money ($8.3 million) than ever before for the arts." We added, "P&G impacts everything that happens in Cincinnati, and to that end Jager's leadership and corporate clout promise a significant increase in funds raised this year. That has enabled the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts to project increases in support both to the area's large institutions and to a broader circle of midsized and smaller arts organizations."

Jager's stern management style succeeded in generating the necessary funds for the arts, but his results in the business world didn't satisfy P&G shareholders, and the board bounced him out in 2001. That didn't change P&G's influence, however, which we'd ranked at No. 5 in 1997 and No. 8 in 1998. In fact, A.G. Lafley, who succeeded Jager in 2001, took the FAF drive to new heights in 2002 when, for the first time, it raised in excess of $10 million. (We put him at No. 12 for his endeavors.) It's worth noting that along the way to the top, Lafley did what many of P&G's corporate leaders do: He served on the boards of arts organizations, including the Playhouse, where he lent his expertise to marketing campaigns.

Second to Jager in 1999 was the arts equivalent of a draft choice to be named at a later date: the executive director of the newly envisioned REGIONAL CULTURAL ALLIANCE (RCA). We wrote, "In March, the RCPC issued a series of recommendations, the foremost of which was the creation of a new organization, the RCA. Whoever is hired to direct RCA will influence the arts throughout the Tristate in the next year and beyond. The right person can build on success; the wrong choice could have detrimental effects. Either way, this person will make a huge difference." What we didn't quite anticipate was no choice at all, which brings us to the person who headed CityBeat's influentials list in 2000. Hamilton County Commissioner TOM NEYER JR. was seventh on our 1999 list but, as the RCA moved forward in its quest for funding, stepped up to the plate to make the first move, requesting funds from the county. That put him in the lead position on our list in 2000. We commended him for accepting the chair of a transition team, adding, "Finding the requisite funding to pay for an executive director, a support staff and other expenses of doing business for the RCA's three-year start-up period has taken much longer than many imagined (including CityBeat, which last year envisioned the new director as the second most influential person on the arts scene). Under Neyer's leadership, the transition team has focused on establishing an organizational structure for the RCA, in addition to obtaining funding from public sources. That makes sense, and Neyer tells CityBeat that during May there will be a public announcement regarding a three-year funding plan that lays a foundation for the future, including seeking a director, who Neyer hopes to have in place this summer. Funding will come from various governmental entities, generally seen as the best source of new funding. ... Bottom line: Neyer is the only elected official in Greater Cincinnati who's spent significant time working on behalf of the arts. The future of RCA is on his shoulders right now, so we're counting on him to carry the ball and make big things happen in the months ahead."

Sad to say, Neyer's quest ran afoul of anti-tax advocates within his Republican Party, who claimed he was in an unethical situation (serving as a both a county commissioner who would approve funding and the chair of the RCA's transition team which was requesting it) and took a complaint to the Ohio Ethics Commission. The commission ruled that he was in the clear but advised him to abstain from voting on the funding. Commissioner John Dowlin didn't see the value in funding RCA, and newly elected Commissioner Todd Portune was unenthusiastic about it. Without Neyer's vote, it was a dead issue, so supporters withdrew the request and RCA faded away. (See "RCA R.I.P.," issue of Aug. 30, 2001, for more background.)

The news about funding over the years hasn't been all bad, however. And it hasn't been exclusively the provenance of P&G. In fact, the most steadily recognized corporate leader has been JOE HALE, president of The Cinergy Foundation. In the year Neyer was striving for public funding, Hale continued his quiet but effective doling out of funds to deserving arts organizations. We put him in second place in 2000, commenting, "Cinergy has elevated the concept of positioning through corporate support of the arts to its utmost in Greater Cincinnati. Hale is proud of the fact that approximately a third of the company's corporate giving goes to the arts, about triple the national average for large corporations, a figure he does not see as changing. Hale reviews 1,200 to 1,500 requests for funding annually, often taking a hands-on approach to ensuring that the foundation's funds are well invested. The foundation continues to be the bellwether that other arts funders look to for leadership. Under Hale's guidance, Cinergy helps approximately 200 arts organizations in Ohio and Indiana, and that's what we call influence."

Hale had been third in 1997, seventh in 1998 and fourth in 1999. He was also eighth in 2001.

The renaissance in artistic leadership with Cincinnati's major arts organizations began in 1992 when the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park hired ED STERN as its producing artistic director. (That decision certainly reached its zenith this past spring when Stern's organization earned the 2004 Regional Theatre Tony Award.) Even on our early lists, we saw Stern as a leader whose influence extended beyond his own theater. We put him in ninth place in 1997, third in 1998, eighth in 1999 and 10th in 2001. With a newfound zeal for arts leaders in 2001 (we ranked the Symphony's Paavo J#228rvi second, the Opera's Nicholas Muni fourth and the Art Museum's Timothy Rub fifth), we put Stern, then in his 10th Playhouse season, in the top spot.

"Never one to rest on his laurels," we noted, "Stern has continued to push the Playhouse's boundaries, with programmatic innovations such as the new cutting-edge alteractive series, and other projects that have the potential to elevate awareness of the Playhouse on the national theater scene. He's fostered a spirit of collaboration among the theater community by championing the establishment of the League of Cincinnati Theatres in 1999, and he's been a force in pushing for stronger connections between the Playhouse (and many other arts organizations) in relationships with Cincinnati Public Schools. Beyond the Playhouse, Stern's voice is frequently heard on larger issues in the arts, from censorship and funding to the creation of new and needed entities such as the Regional Cultural Alliance, on whose board he served."

For several years, Stern had joked with us that he aspired to be dropped from CityBeat's list but, we concluded, "he's become the 'go to' guy in the arts, recognized by many in the larger community for his passion and his clear thinking. We can't think of anyone whose voice speaks more clearly or whose advocacy makes a bigger difference than Ed Stern."

The following year, in fact, we found another advocate who was a face even more familiar than Ed Stern: Former restaurateur and event impresario JIM TARBELL, as a member of Cincinnati City Council, was named the chair of a committee focused on arts and culture. What's more, it got some funding. We thought that deserved a No. 1 ranking in 2002.

We described him as "City Council's quirkiest member" but went on to note that he had "long been known as a supporter of the arts, so it wasn't a big surprise when Mayor Charlie Luken named him to chair council's newest committee. Both candidates in last year's mayoral race promised to focus more city attention on the arts, and we were happy to see Luken follow through with this appointment. Tarbell has been at the center ring for almost nine months, and we're still waiting to see what he can do: When a $1.2 million windfall ended up in his lap, he divvied it up among several organizations that needed to make capital improvements to their facilities. But beyond allocating those funds, we're still waiting for Tarbell to do something more than play his harmonica and talk about the value of the arts to our city."

We added that many people were seeing Tarbell as Cincinnati's "arts czar." While we considered that an overstatement, we added, "His role has some symbolism which we hope he'll convert into real influence. We're watching, Jim." Tarbell has done well with his committee in the past two years, raising the profile of the city's arts institutions (many of which are located in his beloved Over-the-Rhine neighborhood) and doling out funds that are beginning to make a difference. What the future holds in light of the city's budget tightening remains to be seen, but he has made a difference.

While it might have been wishful thinking on our part, the No. 2 slot in 2002 went to LISA MULLINS, executive director of Enjoy the Arts, which was about to mark its 20th anniversary. We hoped to bring more attention to the organization that introduces young people to the arts, but we never quite imagined that their 20/20 Festival would find such success that it would become an annual event (this year's celebration of 20 days and 20 nights of arts-based fun kicks off on Sept. 17).

We praised Mullins for ETA's programs "providing teens and young professionals an affordable incentive to attend concerts, exhibitions, special performances and so on," noting she'd been with ETA since the late 1980s and its leader since 1990. We suggested that 20/20 was the "perfect example of how her intelligent leadership has helped arts of all shapes and sizes build audiences. Mullins never stops seeking ways to make things work."

Our praise for Mullins might have influenced us a year ago when we struck out on a new path with the list of influentials. Given the city's newfound interest in young professionals and Richard Florida's notion of the "creative class," we assembled a list for 2003 of people we thought might be influencing the arts in the years ahead.

Our top pick was THOM COLLINS, senior curator at the freshly opened Contemporary Arts Center (where he assembled Somewhere Better Than This Place, the CAC's inaugural installation that earned worldwide praise).

"Collins didn't come to Cincinnati to work at the CAC," we explained. "Actually he was hired by the Cincinnati Art Museum (CAM) as associate curator for contemporary art. CAC Director Charles Desmarais was seeking someone to mastermind exhibitions at his new facility, and he turned to Collins for advice about candidates. Before long, Desmarais came to believe Collins was the best person for the job and hired him away. ... He's a charming and articulate speaker, able to take works of contemporary art that can be both daunting and confusing and make them expressive and intelligible. He does it without being glib or patronizing, and he inspires a profound appreciation of the 'art of the next 15 minutes,' as the CAC likes to call its principal product."

We were right in everything we said, and perhaps some folks from out of town studied our list. Whatever the case, Collins was hired to become executive director of the Contemporary Museum in Baltimore, and we expect he'll be influencing contemporary art on a national scale in the years ahead.

In second place on our 2003 list of young influentials were BILL DONABEDIAN and SEAN RHINEY, organizers of the MidPoint Music Festival. "Everyone from city officials to mainstream media and sponsors have jumped on the MidPoint Music Festival bandwagon," we observed, "thanks to the 'creative class' party-line that suggests cities with strong music scenes boost the young professional presence and a city's growth, outside perception and general sense of self. Many say MPMF is the best thing to ever happen to Cincinnati's music scene."

The second installment of MidPoint in 2003 proved that the event wasn't a flash in the pan. It's back for year three on Sept. 22-25, and Rhiney and Donabedian keep finding ways to make it bigger and better.

There are others we could mention who've never quite risen to the top of the influentials list but who have made a difference through steady contributions over the years. For instance, HEATHER HALLENBERG, who directs the Fine Arts Fund's Arts Services Office (ASO), shapes the fortunes and futures of small and midsized arts organizations, many of which operate on limited means and with staff that's paid only minimally. Through seminars about marketing and board development, in addition to providing programs such as Business Volunteers for the Arts, Hallenberg regularly makes the world of these important institutions more hospitable.

There are many others who have been cited as shaping our vibrant arts scene: philanthropists who contribute to organizations that have modest budgets, volunteers who provide leadership skill and augment limited staffs, arts professionals who bring their passion and skill to positions that pay salaries many of us would find inadequate. They all do it because they recognize the importance of the arts in our daily lives.

That's a kind of influence we can all appreciate. ©

Repeat Performers

Charles Desmarais, Director, Contemporary Arts Center: 1997 [#18], 1998 [#6], 1999 [#10], 2000 [#13], 2001 [#10], 2002 [#13]

Heather Hallenberg, Director, Arts Services Office, Fine Arts Fund: 1997 [Others], 1998 [#10], 1999 [#5], 2000 [#4], 2001 [#3], 2002 [#9]

Mary McCullough-Hudson, President, Fine Arts Fund: 1997 [#13], 1998 [#17], 1999 [#13], 2000 [#20], 2001 [#14], 2002 [#17]

Jasson Minadakis, Artistic Director, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival: 1997 [Others], 1998 [#17, 1999 [#13], 2000 [#20], 2001 [#14], 2002 [#17]

Richard and Lois Rosenthal, philanthropists: 1997 [#2], 1998 [#5], 1999 [#22], 2000 [#12], 2001 [#9], 2002 [#3]

Ed Stern, Producing Artistic Director, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park: 1997 [#9], 1998 [#3], 1999 [#8], 2000 [#10], 2001 [#1], 2002 [#14]


Otto M. Budig Jr., philanthropist: 1997 [#1], 1998 [#1], 1999 [#3], 2000 [#16], 2002 [#3]

Joe Hale, Cinergy Foundation: 1997 [#3], 1998 [#7], 1999 [#4], 2000 [#2], 2001 [#8]

D. Lynn Meyers, Producing Artistic Director, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati: 1998 [Others], 1999 [#19], 2000 [#19], 2001 [#11], 2002 [#20]

Nicholas Muni, Artistic Director, Cincinnati Opera: 1998 [Others], 1999 [#12], 2000 [#18], 2001 [#4], 2002 [#8]


Jackie Demaline, Arts Writer, Cincinnati Enquirer: 1997 [#8], 1998 [#11], 1999 [#11], 2000 [#11]

Tamara Harkavy, Executive Director, ArtWorks: 1999 [Others], 2000 [#7], 2001 [#20], 2002 [Others]

Erich Kunzel, Music Director, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra: 1997 [#19], 1998 [#9], 1999 [#6], 2000 [Others]

Lisa Mullins, Executive Director, Enjoy the Arts: 1999 [#15], 2000 [Others], 2001 [#15], 2002 [#2]

Procter & Gamble: 1997 [#5], 1998 [#8], 1999 [#1], 2002 [#12]

Maryanne Wehrend, Executive Director, The Carnegie Center: 1999 [#], 2000 [#21], 2001 [Others], 2002 [#Others]