Arts and Culture

The head of Fund for the Arts will step down next year.

President and CEO Christen Boone will leave the post after this fiscal year concludes on June 30, 2021, according to a press release the philanthropic nonprofit put out Wednesday.

Following her departure, Boone will shift her focus to work full-time as a strategic consultant with her 2012-founded firm The Boone Group, 

Boone joined Fund for the Arts in 2014, taking over from now-Metro Council member Barbara Sexton Smith. She launched the Imagine Mural Festival in Smoketown, is credited as an architect of the Imagine Greater Louisville 2020 Cultural Plan and, according to the Fund, raised more than $50 million during her time.  

The timing to step aside felt right, Boone said in an interview.

“I’m not a lifetime CEO,” she said. “I think that organizations need new ideas and new leadership.”

She said she’s proud of the work the Fund has done since she came on board and announced her departure so early because she “wanted to provide the greatest chance for stability during a really uncertain time.” 

“And so by announcing now, at the beginning of our fiscal year, we could really make sure that we’re intentional about the work that we’re doing, and I can continue to stay focused on how to provide the greatest stability, collaboration and alignment in the sector,” Boone said. 

Fund for the Arts’ current board chair, CEO of Stock Yards Bank & Trust Ja Hillebrand, thanked Boone for her tenure in the organization’s statement.

“Her legacy is that she led the Fund through a transformative change that will shape the sector and this community for decades to come,” Hillebrand said. “Her incredible gift for strategy sets the organization up to be well-positioned for the future.”

Boone’s plate will be full her final 10 months with FFTA. She’ll spend those working on efforts such as an update to the metro cultural plan, “evolving” the organization’s “strategic vision,” helping the local arts industry get through whatever the pandemic brings it next, addressing inequities within the area’s arts and culture sector, and finding ways to ensure a smooth transition for the next leader. 

Boone hopes to carry the Fund through the “hardest months” of the pandemic. The Fund has been raising relief money and doling out funds to individual artists since March, when, as Boone once described it, revenue came to a “grinding halt.” 

She thinks this next phase of the crisis for the arts will have to yield “greater innovation, greater collaboration and reinvention.”

“The good thing is that the arts are a creative force… led by creative, resilient, compassionate people,” she said. “Our artists are the ones that are always challenging us to look at the world differently. And so this is an opportunity also for us to think about how do we… engage with our communities in different ways.”

Survival for some organizations could mean a number of things such as merging of resources or creating “strategic alliances.” Boone believes “there will be many lessons and innovations that will stay with us well beyond.”

As to the cultural plan, Boone said they’re working with famed arts administrator and chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland Michael Kaiser, to “refresh the plan.”

“It’s really important that that plan, as it did three years ago, needs to continue to be connected to the goals and priorities of other sector,” she said. “So, it’s not just about where the arts are going, but how does that connect with the goals for our community as a whole.”

There’s also big questions, particularly around arts funding, when it comes to equity within the arts and what role the Fund can play in advancing that.  

Fund for the Arts announced two rounds of project-based grants for Black artists earlier in the summer as protests against police brutality and racism continued in the city. On social media, some local Black artists expressed their discontent with the application process and the grant program, which distributed $500 to $2,000 to more than 25 Black artists of all disciplines to create new work, providing funds for projects rather than to assist with living to create freely. 

“The Fund for the Art is not traditionally focused on art for art’s sake,” Boone said, adding that it also hasn’t traditionally funded individual artists. “Our focus is around art that moves the community forward and partnering with artists around that… the work is impact driven, and because of that mission, we don’t have the flexibility to provide grants to artists or to organizations that aren’t focused on that mission.”

Though, Boone said they’re looking at offering more grants and funding to Black artists in Metro Louisville moving forward, and they’ve developed a task force on this.

“The goal is that it’s much more intentional and much more focused and larger opportunities in the future,” she said, adding that they’re working on raising money for this because the Fund doesn’t have an endowment to “fall back on.”

She also stressed that “equity is about access to a number of things: access to wealth and funding, access to information, to decision makers and to non-cash resources… advisors and experts.” And all of this is on her mind when she thinks about her next chapter, how she can “be a powerful ally,” as well as an advocate for “other people to lead and have a voice and influence.”

The nonprofit’s past board chair, Todd Lowe, president of Parthenon LLC, and incoming board chair, Victoria Russell, VP of diversity at Papa John’s International, will lead the “national internal and external search” for Boone’s successor, the release said. 

This story has been updated.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.