Cover Story: The Most Influential People in the Arts

CityBeat's sixth annual ranking of people who are leading Greater Cincinnati's arts -- for better or worse

Jymi Bolden

Jim Tarbell

A year ago, four of CityBeat's top five arts influentials were artistic directors of major institutions. They're all still listed, but this year our top five are a more diverse group — a politician, an arts administrator, a philanthropist, a grass-roots arts organizer and a performer.

Perhaps this mixture is a positive sign, as the arts can't survive merely on good product. Even though we're in a renaissance of superb artistic management at many of our region's arts organizations, without support and infrastructure such a golden age won't last for long. We need the attention of elected officials and business leaders, the administrative skills of people who run the business of arts organizations, the energy of young artists who constitute the future of the arts scene and the leadership of people who donate their expertise and financial support that keep the arts percolating.

Of course CityBeat's annual list — this is the sixth year we've assembled it — is relatively arbitrary: It's our idiosyncratic estimation of who's making a difference, in addition to a few people we think ought to be making a difference.

It's also CityBeat's chance to advance its own agenda for issues we believe are important. We think it's a good reflection of people who are in a position to make things happen in the arts here in town — some who are, some who ought to.

More and more people in the Tristate are talking about the arts as one of the few assets of this community that are working well these days. Could 2002 be the year we begin to capitalize on these assets and make Cincinnati a better place to live?

If so, these are the people who could make it happen.

NOTES: Last year's ratings are from CityBeat's issue of Aug. 30-Sept. 5, 2001. Although we at CityBeat do our best to influence the arts, we don't include anyone affiliated with the newspaper on this list.

Chair, Cincinnati City Council's Arts & Culture Committee City Council's quirkiest member has 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.
COMMENTS Lots of people see Tarbell as Cincinnati's "arts czar," which might be an overstatement of his actual power. But his role has some symbolism which we hope he'll convert into real influence. We're watching, Jim.

Executive Director, Enjoy the Arts/START Leading two programs providing teens and young professionals an affordable incentive to attend concerts, exhibitions, special performances and so on, Mullins has been with the organization since the late 1980s and its leader since 1990. To celebrate ETA's 20th anniversary, Mullins has fostered the creation of the 20 Days/20 Nights Festival (see story), a concentrated sampling of local arts from large to small in September and October. It's a perfect example of how her intelligent leadership has helped arts of all shapes and sizes build audiences.
COMMENTS Mullins never stops seeking ways to make things work. A recent example is ETA collaborated with several entities, including the Greater Cincinnati Conven-tion & Visitors Bureau, to create a comprehensive Web site where you can find everything you need to know about arts and culture in Greater Cincinnati. Eventually it'll be a place where you can buy tickets to performances.

The Budig Family Foundation has supported most of the major arts organizations in town — you'll find the Budig name in lots of lobbies and other places where donors are recognized. But Otto Budig brings personal and pragmatic leadership skills to everything he does, and that's why he's a valuable member of the boards of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Arts Association, the Cincinnati Art Museum (where he's chairman) and the Contemporary Arts Center (where he's vice president). It's not just the big boys he helps: He's president of the board for Covington's Carnegie Center, where his leadership has made a major difference in putting that institution back on the map with an impressively renovated physical facility and more on the way.
LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Not ranked (but he's been here before; he was No. 1 on our first list in 1996)
COMMENTS A review of arts boards in Greater Cincinnati shows that Budig holds more positions than any other local individual. He was recognized for his arts patronage with one of the 2002 Governor's Awards for the Arts from the Ohio Arts Council.

Co-Director, SSNOVA The 28-year-old artist has organized informal art events in the past, many of them in her own apartment. At one event, property owner and arts philanthropist Fred Lane asked Buddendeck to help convert the former Bellevue Brewery building at 2260 Central Ave. into SSNOVA, a vibrant alternative arts space (see story). SSNOVA is entering its second year of operation, and it draws sizable crowds to its eclectic calendar of avant-garde music performances, fashion shows, film screenings and performance art shows.
COMMENTS Lane's generosity and local artists themselves deserve much of the credit for SSNOVA's early success. Still, it's Buddendeck's vision and hard work that continues to keep the thing thriving.

Music Director, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Who doesn't recognize the young maestro's pensive face after last fall's pervasive "Bravo, Paavo!" campaign splashed him on billboards all over town? But he's more than a commodity to be marketed — Järvi seems to have reenergized the organization from top to bottom. The musicians' playing continues to get international recognition, and the CSO's outreach to new, younger, more diverse audiences seems to be working.
COMMENTS Järvi is in a position to bring attention to our city, and he's eager to do it as an ambassador who's increasingly recognized in Classical music circles around the world.

Executive Director, Learning Through Art She's more than a pretty face and a great voice. Cincinnati's favorite Jazz singer is a passionate advocate for better understanding, something she makes happen through music and the many programs — such as Books Alive for Kids! — she advances under the LTA umbrella.
COMMENTS Wade's annual Crown Jewels of Jazz concert — she opens the evening with her own inimitable stylings before handing the stage over to a renowned international star like Cleo Laine this summer — is one of the best nights of entertainment annually in the Tristate.

Since divesting themselves of their longtime business, F&W Publishing, the Rosenthals have spent most of their time focusing on advancing the arts. Of course, the Contemporary Arts Center's new facility will bear their names, and this season we'll see the 15th Rosenthal New Play Prize performed at the Cincinnati Playhouse. But don't forget their hands-on program, Uptown Arts, in Over-the-Rhine, which offers free classes in art, music, drama and dance for kids from the neighborhood. That kind of influence could last for years.
COMMENTS When Zaha Hadid's startling new building opens next May, the Rosenthals' names could become as well known in international art circles as the Guggenheims and the Gettys.

Artistic Director, Cincinnati Opera Before Muni arrived in Cincinnati, the opera was a sleepy presenter of predictable fare. It had an audience, to be sure, but it didn't turn any heads. No more. For five seasons, Muni's handiwork has kept audiences on the edge of their seats, and bringing to Cincinnati the regional premiere of Dead Man Walking elevated the opera another step toward the highest circles of recognition.
COMMENTS Dead Man Walking turned lots of heads this summer, especially featuring a well-known star like Frederica Von Stade, but Muni's production of Elektra further demonstrated his influence as he booked singers Deborah Polaski, Anja Silja, Inga Nielsen and Robert Hale, already established performers on stages around the world.

Director, Arts Services Office, Fine Arts Fund Every year Hallenberg finds new ways to build a stronger arts community through the advice and support she provides to mid-sized organizations via the Arts Services Office and Business Volunteers for the Arts. This year she's aggressively supported several participants who entered marketing plans in American Express' National Arts Marketing Program. Their proposed campaigns proved to be the envy of arts organizations in other cities, real evidence that Hallenberg has been cultivating their fundamental business skills.
COMMENTS Cincinnati's Business Volunteers for the Arts chapter, just five years old, is recognized by the Arts & Science Council (the parent organization) as one of the best in America.

Dean, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati Lowry's headed CCM only since the beginning of the 2000-01 academic year, but he's clearly a valuable commodity. His steady, progressive leadership at a time when CCM is getting more and more national recognition is key to the school's growth and success.
COMMENTS When it was rumored in June that Lowry was being considered for the dean's position at his former employer, the University of Southern California, the uproar sounded like the din over basketball coach Bob Huggins' possible departure. Lowry scotched the report pretty quickly, but it was an obvious demonstration of the esteem in which he's held, both elsewhere and here in Cincinnati.

Richardson is an indefatigable supporter of the arts. Many remember her tireless, some might say ruthless, efforts to advance the Big Pig Gig in 2000 — rumor has it she sold sponsorships to more than half the individuals and organizations who paid thousands to make the event work. She's also an arts board member extraordinaire, serving on more panels than almost anyone else in town — the Fine Arts Fund, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Ballet (which she chairs) and the Carnegie Center in Covington. When Richardson heads a board or a committee, she expects everyone to work as hard as she does. That wears some people out and makes her abrasive to others when she won't take no for an answer, but she gets the job done.
LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Other Influentials
COMMENTS Richardson headed a recent panel making recommendations to the Greater Cincinnati Foundation about potential strategic support initiatives to support the arts. Lots of opinions were surveyed in order to gave GCF solid recommendations regarding a direction that would make a significant difference in the arts community.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Procter & Gamble Co. Of course, the success of P&G in Cincinnati makes a big difference for all of us, whether we work there or simply benefit from the company's financial support or its many executives and other employees who work on behalf of local arts organizations. Lafley himself has served on several arts boards, including the Cincinnati Playhouse, so he knows and understands many of the needs of the arts community.
COMMENTS Lafley is chairing the Fine Arts Fund drive in 2003, seen by many as a vote of confidence in the importance of the arts. It also means P&G will put a lot of energy behind making sure the campaign raises the kind of money that ensures the stability of the arts here.

Director, Contemporary Arts Center As Zaha Hadid's remarkable design for the CAC's new building rises at Sixth and Walnut streets, Desmarais is positioning his organization for the attention this new landmark building will attract. Lots of willing supporters and donors have made this project possible, but it was Desmarais' vision that first conceived of a new facility and his dogged determination that's making it a reality come next May.
COMMENTS Desmarais needs to foster programming to match the new facility. He's hiring staff and planning exhibitions that can sustain interest in the CAC once the patina of the architecture fades a bit. The building will get attention, but what we go to see there is what's going to build the CAC's reputation.

Producing Artistic Director, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park We don't think any less of Stern than we did last year when we made him our No. 1 influential for 2001. He continues to provide leadership for the Playhouse and in the larger arts community and to show that he cares about both the larger theater scene and the arts in general.
COMMENTS Stern will lend his directing talent to Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati this season when he directs their production of the 2000 Tony Award winner for best play, Michael Frayn's Copenhagen. In addition, next spring he'll be directing for Playhouse audiences a production of Stephen Sondheim's rarely staged work about the opening of Japan in the 19th century, Pacific Overtures.

Director, Cincinnati Art Museum When he arrived in 1999 as CAM's eighth director, Rub said he planned to bring the century-plus art palace "down the hill" from its Olympian position in Eden Park. That's been happening, figuratively if not literally, and his vision of reaching out to the community is culminating in the opening next spring of the Cincinnati Wing.
COMMENTS Continuing evidence of Rub's influence can be derived from the contribution by Procter & Gamble of a sizeable collection of paintings by Cincinnati artists, surely worth several million dollars.

Artistic Director, Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival Just a few years ago it was all Shakespeare, all the time. But Minadakis knew his company would stagnate if he didn't push the envelope. That's led to productions of shows that are literate but contemporary. Minadakis has hired actors — for his company and from the corps of local professionals who live in Cincinnati — who give his productions vitality and immediacy.
COMMENTS This season Minadakis has added new relevance to his offerings with plays he's characterized as cutting-edge: Stephen Adly Guirgis' Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, Martin Sherman's Bent and Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks' In the Blood. These shows will foster conversation and shed light on black/white and gay/straight issues in a way that proves how the arts can be part of an important dialogue our community needs to have.

Executive Director, Fine Arts Fund No list of influentials could ignore McCullough-Hudson, whose organization raises money in one of the oldest and most successful annual drives in America. Of course, the lion's share goes to the Big Eight, but they are the anchors of our arts scene. And in recent years through the industrious Arts Services Office (see No. 9, Heather Hallenberg), the FAF has begun to help a much broader array of organizations.
COMMENTS The Fine Arts Fund — now officially calling themselves that after working for many years under the banner of the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts — is behind two comprehensive, celebratory campaigns: The Festival of the New, marking next spring's opening of the Contemporary Arts Center and several other events (see story), and the Festival of Freedom in 2004 when the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opens to the public.

Executive Director, Greater Cincinnati Foundation Merchant manages the purse strings of the most sizeable cache of private funds available to support nonprofit services and activities in Greater Cincinnati. The arts are one of GCF's six ongoing areas of focus, and Merchant herself is known to be a fan.
LAST YEAR'S POSITION: Other Influentials
COMMENTS GCF's board is currently weighing proposed strategic initiatives, including one that has to do with marketing the arts. Whether the initiative gets funding, the kind of thinking Merchant's organization encourages has influenced many to realize how the arts are a key component of our region's mental health and community pride.

President, Cincinnati Arts Association The CAA operates the Aronoff Center, Music Hall and Memorial Hall. That's not typically very controversial territory, but since the boycott by Citizens for Just Cincinnati started, there's been a big effect on CAA programming. This kicked into high gear following Bill Cosby's much-publicized cancellation of two appearances at the Aronoff.
COMMENTS Loftin's organization sued the boycott organizers for adversely affecting CAA's business, though earlier this week the lawsuit was dismissed. He's an affable, intelligent man, and we hope he and his board are seeking ways to work through this difficult situation without making things go from bad to worse.

Producing Artistic Director, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati Meyers faces an uphill battle based on geography (her theater is in the heart of Over-the-Rhine) and content (ETC stages premieres, i.e. plays people haven't seen before). But talk to her, and it's evident she sees both of these factors as blessings. Meyers has conceived a 2002-03 season about heroes, extrapolating the national mood in a positive way and reflecting on the heroic work done by people who live and work in neighborhoods like OTR. She's filled the season with plays that deserve big audiences, beginning with the first production away from New York City of The Guys, which memorializes fallen firefighters. Later in the year she'll stage the world premiere of a new show by Tony Award winner Warren Leight, James and Annie, a searing and pertinent script about relationships between blacks and whites.

Visual arts reporter, The Cincinnati Enquirer After more than a year with no full-time writer covering visual arts, The Enquirer hit a home run by hiring Bauer. She's enthusiastic, positive and prolific, whether she's cranking out stories about a show at the Art Museum or an unknown sculptor working in an abandoned factory studio. Bauer reports the activities and attitudes of the artists she covers without being arrogant or elitist. Her approach demonstrates that simply expanding awareness with lots of coverage can help readers realize how much goes on in the visual arts in Cincinnati.

Drama Program Chair, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati Hess came to CCM as a grad student a decade ago. By the time he completed his master's degree, he was an easy and popular choice for a faculty position. Since then he's worked tirelessly to put CCM's drama on the map and on a par with the school's long-admired and successful programs in musical theater and opera. A substantial gift from the A.B. and Dolly Cohen Family Foundation has endowed CCM's drama chairmanship, giving Hess the wherewithal to bring in speakers and performers to enhance his program and building his ability to attract talented students.

Executive Director, Taft Museum of Art Long could be the quietest of the directors of Cincinnati's major arts organizations, but he's going to be attracting some attention as he leads the classy Taft into a new era in 2003 with an expanded facility that will enable bigger exhibitions and more educational programs. The museum will retain all of the intimacy of the historic Taft house, and its position as a key institution in the visual arts in Cincinnati will be even greater.

Executive Director, Cincinnati Young People's Theatre; Artistic Director, Showboat Majestic Perrino dreamed for years about creating a venue for the shows he produces annually with teen performers from all over the area. He converted that dream into a reality this summer when he opened the Covedale Performing Arts Center, a transformation of the former Covedale Cinema. This happened with lots of volunteers and assistance from city officials, but it was Perrino's vision that kept it on track. Hundreds of area residents learned the ins and outs of musical theater as teen-agers under his tutelage. New generations of kids will now be doing it in a facility that might make some of our local professionals envious. By the way, it's on the West Side, where the arts haven't previously made much of a dent.

This year's race for a seat on the Hamilton County Commission should be closely watched by arts supporters. When outgoing commissioner Tom Neyer Jr. tried to put his support behind public funding for the arts from Hamilton County, he caught a lot of grief — and a ticket off the commission, some would suggest. Current GOP candidate Phil Heimlich led the criticism of Neyer, so we know where he stands. On the other hand, if Democrat Jean Siebenaler is elected to partner with current commissioner Todd Portune, the balance could tip in favor of progressive activities, including some long-sought and much-needed public funding for the arts. Don't think this election won't affect our local arts scene. Voters who care about the arts have a real choice.

Other Influentials
Thom Collins and Matt Distel, Contemporary Arts Center. It's going to take a whole village to fill up the CAC with cutting-edge programming. The leaders in that area are chief curator Thom Collins, who's a smart guy with lots of ideas, and new assistant curator Matt Distel, whom CityBeat first wrote about when he ran the now-defunct DiLeia Gallery. Last Year's Position: Not ranked

James Czar, Manager of Information Systems, Enjoy the Arts. When Lisa Mullins (see No. 2) wanted to put some muscle behind a Web site that would serve all the arts in town, she turned to Czar to create He's a whiz at everything from the nuts and bolts of programming to the delicate politics of working with hundreds of arts organizations. Last Year's Position: Not ranked

Cincinnati Alternative Theater. We're not sure there's a serious need for another theater association when the League of Cincinnati Theatres is already here; it would make more sense to have a focus on smaller scale theaters within LCT. Nevertheless, we cheer for the continuing diversity of the groups represented in CAT — The Performance Gallery, Women's Theatre Initiative, The Know Theatre Tribe and Queen City Off Broadway — and hope they take firm root to further diversify Cincinnati's already bubbling theater scene. Last Year's Position: Not ranked

Tamara Harkavy, Executive Director, ArtWorks. No pigs this year and less involvement in the less exciting Flower Power project, but Harkavy's core program — offering paying summer jobs in the arts to teen-agers — rose to a new level with operations at UC's Aronoff Center for Art, the home of the renowned programs in design, art, architecture and planning. She'll be making a difference in other ways, too, heading up a committee to help the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center select art for the new facility. Last Year's Position: 20

Laura Hollis, Executive Director, The Artery. This converted Newport storefront is both a gallery and a 50-seat theater available for small performances — New Edgecliff Theatre makes it their home for the 2002-03 season. Hollis, an artist herself, is making it work because she works so hard herself, from the physical renovation to tireless promotion. Last Year's Position: Not ranked

Alexei Kremnev, dancer/choreographer, and Anna Reznik, dancer. Their noisy resignations from roles as principal dancers with Cincinnati Ballet raised some eyebrows. Whatever led to that outburst has now passed, and the married couple continues to play an important role in the local dance scene. Kremnev is the new associate artistic director of Claudia Rudolf Barret's ballet tech ohio performing arts association, and he'll still be performing regularly with Reznik. They add breadth to the local scene and keep Cincinnati dance fans in touch with the larger world of dance. Last Year's Position: Not ranked

Ernest Robinson, Arts Supporter. A retired research aquatic biologist, Robinson worked for the EPA for many years. But he's been an active board member with civic groups like the North Avondale Neighborhood Association, Inner City Health Care and Cincinnati Technical College. He's also been a strong supporter of the arts, serving on the Cincinnati Musical Festival Association's board and supporting Kathy Wade's Learning Through Art, which honored him this year with one of its "Heart for the Arts" awards. Last Year's Position: Not ranked

Don Sherman, Executive Director, Cincinnati Black Theatre Festival. He's been organizing and staging shows for six years, and he keeps at it, doing a bit more every time. He attended the 2001 National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina and came back with even more ideas. The spring 2002 version of his biennial event was the best yet, and now his organization is beginning to attract some serious funding support. We have high expectations for the next festival in 2004. Last Year's Position: Not ranked

Mike Smith, Special Projects Manager, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. A year ago Smith, who used to run things at Riverbend, signed on with the CSO to manage special projects. His big production this spring was a successful rebirth of Pepsi Jammin' on Main, which had been canceled last year in the wake of the April 2001 riots. In 2003 he'll be managing Tall Stacks, when steamboats return to the riverfront, and you can bet he'll add musical and entertainment dimensions that will make the event more of a cultural experience. Last Year's Position: 17

Cathy Springfield, Co-Chair, Arts Advocacy Initiative. Now here's a new idea: grassroots support for the arts. Springfield and others (with some major shoving by Jackie Demaline of The Cincinnati Enquirer) have convened average citizens to consider how to support the local arts scene. They don't seem to be having real traction yet — for instance, by influencing Jim Tarbell's City Council committee — but we think the energy is well placed and Springfield's commitment is serious. Last Year's Position: Not ranked

Jim Verdin, Owner, Pendleton Art Center. In case you haven't heard, the Pendleton is the largest collection of artist studios under one roof anywhere in the United States. But Verdin has bigger ideas than that: He'd like to turn the whole Pendleton district in Over-the-Rhine into a community of artists. It's a slow, uphill battle to change this deteriorated neighborhood, but he's committed to making progress and creating an environment that fosters creativity. Last Year's Position: Other Influentials

Sara M. Vance, Owner, SMV Media. She's on the boards of Ensemble Theatre, the Contemporary Arts Center, the Cincinnati Art Museum and Enjoy the Arts. How come? Because she represents the next generation of donors who support the arts. She's in her mid-30s with a degree in journalism, and she knows her way around the worlds of advertising and marketing. She founded the Patricia A. Vance Foundation, in memory of her mother, to aid children and animals. And the arts have benefited from her generosity, too. Last Year's Position: Not ranked

Mary Anne Wehrend, Executive Director, The Carnegie Center. Now that they're coming down the stretch on some big construction, it seems that the Carnegie is well-positioned to be a significant player in the arts in Northern Kentucky. With a solid staff and a strong board, Wehrend could begin to make waves on both sides of the Ohio River. Last Year's Position: Other Influentials

Rick Pender

RICK PENDER has written about theater for CityBeat since its first issues in 1994. Before that he wrote for EveryBody’s News. From 1998 to 2006 he was CityBeat’s arts & entertainment editor. Retired from a long career in public relations, he’s still a local arts fan, providing readers (and public radio listeners)...
Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.