As LexArts president and CEO Jim Clark neared the end of his remarks at the Tuesday breakfast kicking off the organization's annual Fund for the Arts campaign, his words slowed.
"It's not often that one is allowed to make a difference," Clark said, quavering on the last word and then pausing. "I was given that chance. The board entrusted their organization to me, and I felt honored and privileged for that. But now it is time for someone else to take on that privilege and to move this organization forward."
Clark has more than four months left in his tenure as director of Lexington's arts umbrella organization. He announced his retirement late last year and is to step down June 30. But Tuesday morning was the last time that he will preside over the launch of the group's annual Fund for the Arts, the signature initiative for LexArts.
In Clark's first campaign, in 2003, the fund drive raised $878,089. On Tuesday, LexArts announced a goal of $1.25 million.
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"Last year closed at $1.16 million," Clark said in an interview Monday in his ArtsPlace office. "Our long-range goal calls for getting to a $2 million campaign by 2016, so every year, if we meet these goals, it allows us to keep bumping that up."
Money raised by the campaign is distributed as operating funds to Lexington arts organizations, including the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Balagula Theatre, the Lexington Art League and the Lexington Children's Theatre, and various grants programs.
"We've grown with the campaign," Lexington Children's Theatre managing director Larry Snipes said at the breakfast reception preceding the kickoff program. "The first one, we got $13,000. Last year, we got $120,000, and we have a $1.3 million budget. So we have grown as the campaign has grown."
Longtime LexArts board member Steve Grossman, who also chaired both of the group's HorseMania public art projects, said Clark "has taken the arts to the next level in Lexington. He's done a great job fundraising, particularly given some of the adverse conditions we've experienced."
Others singing Clark's praises Tuesday morning were Mayor Jim Gray and retiring Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, who received LexArts' community partner award at the event.
The campaign kickoff put a focus on arts programs that serve children, with presentations by the Children's Theatre and students from Arlington Elementary School in the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra's MusicWorks program, a new orchestral ensemble initiative designed to give equitable access to music eduction.
"A program like this could not exist without LexArts' support," CKYO director Dan Chetel said.
Campaign chairwoman L. Tracee Whitley, chief operating officer of Bingham McCutchen LLP, said, "Kids who are exposed to arts at an early age inevitably grow up to be more valuable, thoughtful, and often more highly educated workers and citizens."
Saying that an active arts community attracted her own firm, based in Boston, to move to Lexington, Whitley touted cyclical benefits of the arts through generations.
"Fundamentally, promotion of the arts stimulates a virtuous cycle through the life of our city," she said.
Clark said programs geared toward children have great meaning to potential donors, but on Monday, he cautioned against focusing too much on one aspect of the arts.
"Years ago, the thing to promote was 'arts, as an economic development tool,'" Clark said. "If you harp on that too much, people expect you to become an economist, and then you get sidetracked into conversations that aren't about the arts."
Touching a number of bases, the campaign video Tuesday touted a 2012 study that showed the arts had an $18.5 million economic impact in Fayette County.
"Things like that are good, but what we can't get away from is that the arts are integral to the human experience," Clark said. "The arts help us make sense of a chaotic and complicated world."