Q&A with Tom Katzenmeyer

President and CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council

By
From the June 2013 issue of Columbus CEO

Moving the Arts Community Forward

Less than a week into his new job as president and CEO of the Greater Columbus Arts Council, Tom Katzenmeyer’s office is a work in progress. Paintings and framed posters by his favorite artists line the baseboards, leaning like transients beneath their future moorings. Though still settling into his new quarters, Katzenmeyer is already moving full steam ahead in his position at the helm of GCAC.

Katzenmeyer has spent his professional life cultivating relationships in the public, private and academic sectors, most recently as vice president of communications at Ohio State University. The former Hilliard city councilman spent 15 years working in various public positions, including legislative liaison for Gov. Richard Celeste in the Ohio House of Representatives, before joining Limited Brands in 1990, where he was vice president of investor, media and community relations until 2008.

Last year, Katzenmeyer chaired the city-appointed Funding Review Advisory Committee; its recommendations resulted in the reallocation of more of Columbus’s bed tax revenue to Experience Columbus as well as arts and human services organizations. GCAC’s projected 2013 revenue is $5.95 million, 80 percent of which will go to community funding and programs, including $607,845 earmarked for the Columbus Arts Festival. In its second year back at the Scioto Riverfront, GCAC officials expect to exceed last year’s estimated 400,000 visitors. The event runs June 7-9.

Already, Katzenmeyer is hard at work. “I have a lot to learn, a lot to learn in a very short period of time. I’m not going to give myself that much on-boarding time,” he says with a laugh. Though he speaks with humor and candor, there’s no mistaking his resolve to take GCAC—and the arts and culture of the city of Columbus—to the next level.

Q: How’s the job going so far?

A: I love it, are you kidding me? I love it! It’s going very well, and everyone’s incredible.

Milt Baughman, who’s the current leader who’s still going to be here for a couple of months—he’s retiring—has just built a fabulous base for me to come in and get to work off of. The place is financially stable. He’s got great relations with the arts leaders in the community and the political leaders in the community, so that’s good. It’s all good.

Q: How does the private sector contribute to the arts in Columbus?

A: Arts and culture are a vital part of the fabric of the city, of the community. We have corporations and their employees that, first of all, contribute money from their foundations, from their own personal giving, they volunteer time. We have all kinds of volunteers for things not only that we do, but for all of these nonprofits in town. Corporate employees [are] sitting on the boards of arts organizations.

The arts and culture part of Columbus are important in terms of attracting and retaining talent at these places, too—another reason why they would care about it and want to be involved.

Q: How do you intend to engage the corporate community?

A: I just have great contacts in that world from working at Limited Brands for 18 years, working with all the people that head the foundations of all the major corporations that are headquartered here in Columbus. I hope to engage them in terms of bringing more resources to bear. I’m not just talking financial, but ideas, talent, time, collaboration—all of that.

Q: After nearly 20 years in state government, how do you intend to leverage those connections?

A: Well, there’s that whole piece around public financing for the arts. The city leaders just appropriated more money for GCAC and Experience Columbus, for which we are very grateful.

But we’re just at the beginning of this, we’re just at the start of it. We have more ideas on how to bring more resources, financial and otherwise. I chaired the Funding Review Advisory Committee. … There are multiple recommendations in there with new ideas about how to bring more resources to arts and culture in Columbus. Between the public sector and the private sector, hopefully we can act on some of these and bring them to fruition.

Q: The Columbus Foundation recently released an Arts Sustainability report. Do you share CEO Doug Kridler’s sentiment that the arts have “enormous and unique value”?

A: Absolutely. I’ll give you this: The arts in Columbus [generate] $226 million in economic activity with 8,500 jobs. And that is only going to go up if I have anything to do with it.

Q: What do you have in mind to boost that revenue?

A: A lot of different things: Help the arts organizations work on more earned income for them. That’s ticket sales—so maybe better marketing, collaborative marketing. That’s across the board, for all the organizations.

Again, I think the notion is to bring more public and private-sector money to bear on arts and culture in Columbus. Longer term, looking further out, to begin to help the Columbus Foundation and the arts organizations build more endowment.

Q: What kind of culture will you seek to create?

A: I want it to be fun. I want it to be open and smart, of course. I want us to really as a team move this city forward in arts and culture, on everything—funding promotions, help for artists and arts organizations. I want us to be the place to come. I want us to have the best arts festival in the United States, which we are definitely working toward.

Q: In terms of Columbus’s homegrown artists, do you think that the Short North and Olde Towne East revitalizations speak to the ability of artists to raise up an entire neighborhood?

A: Absolutely, absolutely, and it’s something our civic leaders care very much about. We have a lot of opportunity. Obviously the Short North is much further developed, and German Village, to some extent, in terms of art galleries, art happenings, art walks. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of stuff to do. But we’ve got a lot of opportunity on the south side, certainly in Franklinton, the King-Lincoln area, the area out by OSU East.

Q: How will you ensure that your grants and programs have the most impact on the city, particularly in its economic development and education?

A: It’s definitely a stated priority and it’s a priority of the Greater Columbus Arts Council. So what you’ll see is, you’ll see us doing the traditional operating support grants—those are the big grants that we give out—but you’ll also see us begin to put more money behind investment in the key neighborhoods and the film work. I think ideally we’d like to fund more artists who are just out there doing their thing … maybe 1,000 bucks, 2,000 bucks, could make a big difference and help launch them and/or keep them here, too.

 

Q: What’s the best professional advice you’ve received or would give?

A: Don’t make it about yourself. Have some humility. I learned that from working at Limited Brands. Make it about the other person. Make it about the other person being successful. Just take a step back.

The other thing I learned at the Limited is that corporations can really contribute by doing well for the communities where their employees are and where their headquarters are.

You have it here again and again and again in the arts and culture world. All of these companies are stepping up. You’ve got some that are leaders like PNC, but everybody gives as much as they can to all these campaigns, to all these arts organizations, they lend people to serve on boards, they lend people their marketing expertise.

There is incredible value to that in Columbus, Ohio. When you get the support of the public sector, the mayor and city council—the current example being the additional bed tax money that we just received—and the support of the private sector that I just talked about, it’s a powerful combination. It’s a very powerful combination.

Kitty McConnell is a reporter for Columbus CEO.

Photo by Ryan M.L. Young