Over the past few years, arts organizations in Louisville have gone through major leadership transitions, particularly at the very tops of these organizations. At one point, Wheelhouse Art gallery owner and former curator at the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana, Daniel Pfalzgraf tweeted his count. By December of 2020, Pfalzgraf had counted 14 leadership changes within the last three years, with 8 of those shifts happening in 2020.
There have been many reasons given for the changes. New opportunities for some leaders and others wanted to step aside so that the organizations could thrive with new visions including becoming more inclusive spaces for marginalized people to thrive.
For some of the organizations, the openings presented an opportunity to shift how they govern themselves. Some chose to adopt new models of leadership that break out of the mold of a vertical hierarchy with their leadership being shared and assigned according to the skills of the individuals guiding the orgs forward.
As leadership and the outlook for the arts changes, the audiences are shifting alongside. These new audiences want organizations to represent the nature of their experiences more fully and to be more agile with inclusive stories that often go untold. This has presented new challenges, as many of these organizations are run by boards that remain attached to old hierarchical structures. Fortunately, in Louisville, there have been many initiatives to help these organizations shift and change deeply — including the look of their boards.
Leadership isn’t always a sexy topic, but it is helpful to know who is running some of the spaces we inhabit and spend our money. It is good to know who is leading the organization and how they view the role of that org in relation to the public.
We interviewed a few of the new arts leaders. From speaking to them, it is clear that Louisville’s art scene is heading for major changes and these leaders are building the teams to make that a reality.
Public Art Administrator Of Jeffersonville
For Jeffersonville Public Art Administrator Emily Dippie, this new role is a chance to do something that she’s always dreamed of.
“I had been watching this project develop as a community member from the outside and just had slowly fallen in love with the Jeffersonville area,” said Dippie. “And so when Dawn Spyker, my predecessor, decided to step down, I applied for the job, not really thinking that I would get it.”
After several months of interviews, the dream became a reality and Dippie stepped into the role. Like her predecessor, Dippie’s background was in the arts and education.
“I’m originally from Louisville. I grew up on the Southwest side,” said Dippie. “I graduated from PRP high school. Then I went to Murray State University for school.”
“I did major in art with an emphasis in sculpture and I also pursued and received my teaching certification while I was at Murray state.”
When she left school, she moved back to Louisville and began a job search. She started looking for art teacher jobs thinking it would be easier to find one in her hometown rather than looking near her university.
After getting a job at a private school, Dippie began to get involved in the arts scene and particularly became involved with Maker 13, a community-based maker workshop that enables individuals to create by offering access to equipment, training and knowledge.
As the new public art administrator in Jeffersonville, Dippie jumped into big shoes. With the NoCo district coming together quickly under Spyker’s leadership, there were many projects ready for Dippie when she arrived.
“In September, we’re going to be installing 10 small scale sculptures through downtown Jeffersonville,” said Dippie. “The sculptures are all of this fish, named Jeffrey, and he is making his way from the river to the water tank in the NoCo cultural district. At each sculpture, he’s on a different form of transportation.”
“We’re marketing that project as a permanent free outdoor family activity for people.”
The project will kick off with a scavenger hunt that will help people locate all of the Jeffrey”s Journey sculptures. Jeffrey’s Journey was created by artist Amanda Hoback and will have a narrative story accompanying him on his journey written by high school student Ava Gleitz.
Dippie is looking forward to the new initiatives and growing engagement with the community.
“I think a lot of people have been really excited about the small scale sculptures and experiencing Jeffrey because it’s not just an art installation,” said Dippie. “It’s something you can come and do and experience. That’s what we’re really hoping to create, experiences for the community to interact with the arts and artists and give artists opportunities to have paying jobs and have the experiences.”
Executive Director Of Louisville Visual Art
Kristian Anderson moved to Louisville from Salt Lake City, Utah, where he was working as the advisor for arts and culture to the mayor. When the mayor declined to run for reelection, his position would end with the mayor’s term.
When his role ended, he was at a point where he needed to figure out what was next.
“It’s an interesting thing about where the pandemic is now, but I wanted to take a couple of weeks to a month or so to figure out, um, to look back on my career and what made me happy and what kind of job I wanted to be doing,” said Anderson. “And one of the things that was really important to me was to sort of go back to working directly with artists.”
Having grown up in Minnesota and with his family still there, Anderson was eager to return to a place nearer to his roots and his father. Louisville also presented to Anderson a city that was big enough — but not too big, where people in power and those in the community are so far apart. The power distance in Louisville is relatively low and this was attractive to Anderson.
“I was just sort of in the right position, I think, to be a bit more flexible about the type of organization and community that I want to be a part of,” said Anderson. “And, you know, LVA was more community focused than a lot of museums or other arts organizations. That they would be more artist-focused as opposed to object-focused was another one of those things that I realized that I really loved when I was sort of in this hiatus, for lack of a better term.”
Anderson joined Louisville Visual Art last year in the middle of the pandemic. It was not his ideal situation, but has found ways to make the best of his new role in a new era of human existence.
“I walked into the inability to sort of meet a lot of my staff face to face,” said Anderson. “We had one sort of very socially-distanced staff meeting where we were all sitting outside and, you know, other than Keith… Keith was my sole and constant companion for, you know, 9 or 10 months until the beginning of May. I don’t know which one of us was Don Quixote and which one of us was Sancho but anyway, some combination therein.”
That he came to a city in the middle of a lockdown and had to build relationships with his staff amidst the situation presented an especially challenging hurdle. Despite this, LVA managed to hold in-person camps and to offer more programming this year.
In talking to members of the community, Anderson discovered that the public knowledge of LVA is limited and that is something he sees as an arrow to shoot for the future.
“There wasn’t sort of a connective thread, I don’t think, that ran through a lot of what it is that LVA has done in a way that made it like a coherent elevator pitch, one or two sentence way to describe to you who we are,” said Anderson. “Then, after about the first 6 or 7 months, you know, this, what I sort of understood… is I think that LVA really needs to be the organization that supports the life cycle of an artist.”
To this vision, Anderson sees that the kids’ classes are integral, but recently the organization launched the Artist Resource Series that will give local artist resources and development opportunities.
For more information, visit louisvillevisualart.org.
Katy Delahanty | Danny Seim
Executive Director Of The Portland Museum | Executive Director of AHOY (Adventure House Of You)
Katy Delahanty has been having a singular experience in her roles in arts work. As an art alumni of the prestigious Cooper Union, for a time, this wasn’t always the case. Breaking into arts work wasn’t always easy and she spent many years working in social services.
In her new role, she steps into the leadership role of a restructured and growth-focused organization at the Portland Museum. Delahanty is in a unique position. Her role is one that is shared with Danny Seim, the mastermind behind one of the museum’s flagship projects, Adventure House of You (known as AHOY). Delahanty assumes her new role as executive director of the Portland Museum to pursue the museum’s overall vision and needs and Seim is charged with laser focus on and development of the AHOY project.
When Delahanty first interacted with the Portland Museum, it was a very different place.
“I started with the Portland museum — just even engaging with the Portland museum — I think it was 2018, maybe 2017. I can’t remember at the moment, but, um, I remember walking in the doors. It was ivy covered, kind of looked like The Secret Garden, strange, like out-of-nowhere kind of space. You just didn’t expect it.”
The director at the time had been working on the museum for about 40 years. Delahanty remembers being introduced to the museum by Seim who’d just moved from Portland, Oregon to the Portland neighborhood in Louisville.
Seim brought Delahanty to meet a letterpress printmaker and the letterpress facilities. Delahanty remembers being impressed by the stuff at the museum but the museum was in need of some love and attention.
“Basically the museum was under a time where they needed to be triaged. The director had left and it was in a situation where it didn’t know if it was going to still exist. So the person who was working there at the time, her name was Teresa Lee. She said after talking to me for a while, she’s like, ‘You really should join the board.’ And, I had never joined a board before in my life.”
Delahanty knew of boards, but had no experience with how they worked or how someone became a member of one. For her, this step was one that sent her arts leadership career into hyperdrive.
“I met with [former Councilperson] Cheri Bryant Hamilton, because I was like, we need assistance,” said Delahanty. “And I just described the whole situation. But, she granted us a $25,000 grant, which saved our ass, gave us enough time to renegotiate our endowment, to get some money released so that we would have a cushion in order to build ourselves back up.”
Delahanty is a master at getting things done. This is something she shares with Seim who is also very much a doer.
“Our approaches are different, but similar, like he definitely listens and wants to hear what people want to see and stuff. But if he sees a need, he will DIY it. And that’s super different from, I think a lot of other leaders’ perspectives, like a lot of people wait and try to earn all this money or whatever. And he’s like, we don’t eat a ton of money to make this very simple thing happen. So he’s a doer.”
The Portland Museum is working diligently on keeping the doors open and expanding upon the collection and access to the community. Seim is making plans to increase the work on the AHOY house which is next door to the museum. This includes working with the architects who originally built the museum many years ago to join AHOY and the museum into one building.
Julie Leidner | Laura Wilkins
Creative Leader Of Exhibition Development And Education At The Carnegie Center For Art And History | Leader Of Museum Operations At The Carnegie Center For Art And History
Julie Leidner is in one of the arts and cultural spaces that is exploring a more blended model of leadership. So when she became the creative leader of exhibition development and education for the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana, she took on that role with a new (and lengthy) title and shares the museum leadership with Laura Wilkins, who assumed the leader of museum operations role.
Leidner, who is from Louisville, began her arts career at UofL with a BFA and got her MFA at Rhode School of Design. For a bit, she worked with Kentucky College of Art + Design as one of its educators when it was still called the Kentucky School of Arts.
“The reason why I was interested in this role here at this museum is because of how unique the Carnegie Center is,” said Leidner. “Because it is, first of all, a museum of history, and art and that really interested me.”
The other piece of working with the Carnegie that she found fascinating was its connection to the public library in Floyd County, Indiana. The nature of it being free and both service and community-focused was also important to Leidner. As both an artist herself and an educator, the potential for these skills to both be utilized was tantalizing. In addition to all of those things, Leidner had a curatorial background as the Sheherazade gallery owner.
As a part of the new structure of the museum, Leidner and team are looking for ways to make the museum better serve its audience.
“As part of this kind of new structuring of staff at the Carnegie center, we’re also kind of trying to figure out how else we can focus more on the community access aspect of the Carnegie center,” said Leidner. “And, so, there’s three parts to that I can kind of announce now or tell you now, number one, we’ll be starting to have evening hours starting in September, we’ll be open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays.”
In addition to extended hours, Leidner says the museum intends to continue its recently launched and paid artist-in-residence program, and it will begin a guest curatorial program. Since former curator, Daniel Pfalzgraf left to open his own space, the museum has been without someone formally filling that role. Using guest curators will ensure that more voices are heard within the museum and in the community.
“There are so many unique things about the Carnegie. I mean, we are small, so, you know, we’re a lot smaller than the Speed or even KMAC,” said Leidner. “But, we are unique in the fact that we are a public library. And so literally our mission is to serve the public and to educate, um, and to provide, you know, cultural experiences and so on for free. So, if we can kind of double down on that by increasing that kind of access in these first couple of ways, um, then I think that would be exciting.”
Andre Kimo Stone Guess
Executive Director At Fund For The Arts
He fell in love with the arts in a Smoketown barber shop and named his four children (with his wife of 31 years) after famous jazz musicians. While we are already swooning over new Fund for the Arts President and CEO Andre Kimo Stone Guess, LEO dug a bit deeper regarding his new role at the Fund and his plans for our future as a growing and thriving arts community. Plus, we uncovered a few more fun facts!
LEO: What are your favorite things to do in Louisville?
Andre: I love to walk, especially around my neighborhood, Old Louisville. I really enjoy checking out all of the old Victorian mansions. We live on St. James Court; I must say that we have the best view of the fountain of any residence on the court. So I spend a lot of time on our veranda —because it’s too pretty to call a balcony.
My favorite restaurants are Naive and Ramsi’s. I’m vegan and they have excellent vegan fare.
Describe the moment you fell in love with the arts in a barber shop and knew it was your calling.
When my barber Leon played a Wynton Kelly record for me — he is the pianist that Wynton Marsalis is named after — I was hooked. I’ve always loved music, but it was something about Wynton Kelly’s music that forever changed me. I am forever indebted to Leon for planting that seed.
Who are your favorite jazz musicians?
I love so many jazz artists that it’s hard for me to make a list of favorites, so I’ll just name a few artists that I’ve been checking out lately — The Baylor Project, Dara Tucker, Sullivan Fortner, Joel Ross, Jamison Ross (no relation), Brad Mehldau, Chano Domínguez.
What are your plans to work with local arts agencies moving forward? What are your ideas for making the arts more accessible to everyone in the community?
My plan is to get to know as much about the local arts ecosystem as possible by continuing to go out into the community to experience as much art as I can and also get to know as many artists and leaders of arts organizations as I can. We have instituted an initiative called After Hours where we reserve two half hour slots every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.; anyone who signs up online can come by the offices to meet with me or anyone else on the staff. We also want to go into communities and organizations to listen in a group or town hall setting to get a sense of what is going on and what is needed in the city.
Art becomes more accessible when information is more widely available. We also have to debunk the notion of high art. High art is just folk art that has stood the test of time. All art is for everyone.
Ars longa, vita brevis!!
How do you see the Louisville arts landscape changing in the next five years?
The past 18-20 months have changed the world forever. This Darwinian period has uncovered for some and validated for many the tenuous nature of the human condition. At its most irreducible essence, art is one of the purest expressions of the human condition. I see the entirety of the Louisville arts landscape moving closer together to elevate our common humanity through the arts across the continua of arts disciplines, arts organizations and experience levels of artists.
How can Louisville’s community better support the arts? Could you speak to the idea of diversity, inclusion and healing with regard to the arts and recent events — as a form of creative expression?
The Louisville community can better support the arts by first recognizing the power of the arts that rests and abides within each of us as individuals. Often, the most important art is your own art. Many of us are making it through the isolation and uncertainty thrown upon us by the pandemic and the ongoing struggle for racial justice because of our own art. We use art in our lives every day. We just don’t make the connection with our own art and “The Arts.” Once we make that connection, the support will come from all corners of the community.
Art and creative expression is the way that we understand the world that is around us. Our ability to express ourselves creatively through the arts is a way for us to first and foremost understand as humans that we have more in common than in difference, but arts also give us a firm foundation to celebrate our differences. In my opinion, diversity is best represented through the lens of belonging. When we all belong to something bigger than ourselves, and are able to, and even encouraged to, be our authentic selves within that framework, then we are able to truly experience diversity. And once we experience diversity through the lens of belonging, inclusion is the next natural step in that process. Everyone can then come and will be welcome to the public square as their authentic selves.
Could you share a few fun or unusual facts about yourself?
I’m a Snoopy fanatic. I wear mostly Lululemon. I ride my Peloton bike several times a week. My nickname as a kid was Queetcy.