Visual Arts

Jim Clark to leave top post at LexArts

Jim Clark has been president and CEO of LexArts since 2002. He announced his resignation in October 2013.
Jim Clark has been president and CEO of LexArts since 2002. He announced his resignation in October 2013. Courtesy of LexArts

LexArts president and CEO Jim Clark says he has accomplished what he can with the area arts umbrella organization and will leave his post next year.

Clark's resignation will be effective June 30. "That'll give the board time to look at our mission and what changes it would like to make, and it will also give the board time to have conversations internally and externally that will examine our role in the community and shape the search process," he said.

"I'm not big on maintenance, and there are certain challenges that lie ahead that are out of my toolbox," Clark said, referring primarily to development of new and existing arts facilities.

LexArts board chairman John Long said Clark has given the board plenty of time to think through LexArts' next steps. "The fact that we're working through a transition that will keep him around through the end of June is a pretty good sign about the way the transition will work," Long said.

Clark succeeded Dee Fizdale, who retired in 2002 after 23 years at the then-named Lexington Arts and Cultural Council. He came to Lexington from Dayton, Ohio, where he was president and CEO of the arts fund-raising organization Culture Works for five years. Before that, he was in New York, where he managed a graduate-level program at the Pratt Institute and was the executive director of the Public Arts Fund of New York City. His prior positions included owning his own private art gallery in his native Los Angeles.

At LexArts, Clark oversaw a time of tremendous change in Lexington arts and culture, including transitions in leadership at many of the city's leading arts groups and the addition of a number of organizations.

"During Jim's tenure, a lot of Lexington arts groups moved past their adolescence," said Lexington Philharmonic executive director Allison Kaiser, who also served as the executive director of the Lexington Art League during Clark's time on the job. "Jim, in his own unique way, was able to help those organizations move past the models they had been working in for many years at a time."

Kaiser said Clark's "unique way" was a bluntness that did not always go over well, but gave groups a needed push.

Clark said his primary remaining job for LexArts is to deliver a successful Campaign for the Arts, the arts fundraiser that annually brings in more than $1 million, much of which is dispersed among Central Kentucky arts groups in general operating funds and among artists and organizations in grants.

During his tenure, Clark saw arts groups through the recession without losing any standing groups, and he forged strong relationships with city government, including Mayor Jim Gray and previous mayor Jim Newberry.

"We wish Jim the best and we're grateful for his leadership," Gray said in a statement. "LexArts provides a great platform to elevate the arts in Lexington, and I'm excited about how the arts are helping build a robust economy for the future."

Even through financial stresses, LexArts maintained an annual contribution from the Urban-County Government of $350,000 to $500,000.

"That has been a pleasure, being able to work with elected officials who are cognizant of what the arts mean and why it's important to support them," Clark said, also pointing to successful partnerships with the business community and Commerce Lexington.

LexArts also manages the city-owned Downtown Arts Center on Main Street and ArtsPlace on North Mill Street. One of the rough patches in Clark's tenure involved Actors Guild of Lexington, the former primary tenant in the Downtown Arts Center, which opened in 2002.

In 2009, LexArts denied the annual allocation request from Actors Guild, which LexArts had been funding for two decades, citing concerns about the theater's management and financial stability.

The situation led to acrimonious exchanges between the parties, the departure of most of AGL's management staff and the theater moving its productions from the Downtown Arts Center.

The theater is now running in a space on Old Harrodsburg Road, and while artistic director Eric Seale says he and Clark have talked, there is still tension, and LexArts has struggled to program the Downtown Arts Center's black box theater.

Clark said he plans to remain in Lexington and focus on efforts to bring more public art, one of his signature pursuits, to the Bluegrass.

"I think that's a potential area of growth in Lexington," Clark said, "and perhaps I can do even more on that if I pursue that as a main objective."