Visual Arts

Committee searching for next LexArts leader gets public input, including criticism

The Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St.
The Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St. Herald-Leader

The committee looking for a successor to LexArts president and CEO Jim Clark opened its work to the public Monday night for a conversation that ranged from fundraising and management styles and structures to the arts' place in Lexington and how "cool and hip" LexArts should be.

"A lot of it was what I anticipated," said J. David Smith Jr., chair of the search committee. "But it is very important we have a transparent public conversation about finding a new CEO of LexArts."

Smith said he was a bit surprised that the Lexington arts umbrella organization, which conducts an annual campaign for funds to be distributed to area arts groups, "is viewed as corporate-centric and not responsive to individual artists," noting he detected that sentiment particularly among visual artists.

The meeting started with Smith and other search committee members talking about how its work had proceeded since late last year, including the decision to hire the search firm Management Consultants in the Arts to conduct the nationwide search.

Smith and committee member John Long acknowledged that the search had gone a bit slower than anticipated. But that was in part, Long said, because "it is important to slow down and take note of what's happening in the community and listen."

The audience that packed the gallery at ArtsPlace had a lot to say.

Artist and arts advocate Kate Savage was one of the leading critics of the current LexArts management, calling the organization's fundraising and support of local artists weak.

"This agency is not answering the needs of the artistic community," she said. "There are a lot of little people in the city that need the support of LexArts.

"LexArts needs someone warm and fuzzy who welcomes everyone's individual efforts."

A number of comments and questions focused on LexArts' allocation strategy, in which a handful of major groups get more than $100,000 each, while the second tier of grants is $10,000 or less.

Committee members said they have looked at fundraising in communities comparable to Lexington and hoped to see an increase with the next director.

Several questions and comments addressed the basic structure of LexArts, from whether the position of president and CEO should be divided between an artistic manger and financial manager, to how its fundraising campaign is structured, drawing $350,000 to $500,000 annually from an Urban County Council allocation.

Late in the meeting the conversation veered to style points, some saying LexArts needed to take on the hip and cool look of groups like Institute 193 and the North Limestone Neighborhood Association. Others, including panelist and search committee member Allison Kaiser of the Lexington Philharmonic, said that would distract from LexArts' core fundraising mission.

"Other groups are programming hip and cool," artist and advocate Robbie Morgan said. "What LexArts needs to do is be responsive to them."

The committee got compliments for being responsive to the community's desire to be heard; some in the audience said they would like to see another forum when the committee has narrowed its choices to a few finalists.

Committee members said they hoped to have their work done by Oct. 1.