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Tom Katzenmeyer Ramps Up Funding for Art and Culture in Columbus

Walker Evans Walker Evans Tom Katzenmeyer Ramps Up Funding for Art and Culture in Columbus
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The Greater Columbus Arts Council (GCAC) kicked off 2013 with the announcement of new leadership and a renewed focus. The arts organization tapped Tom Katzenmeyer as its new President, who previously worked on a regional study and action plan to help funnel more public and private dollars into local arts and culture institutions.

We sat down recently with Tom to talk about his history with fundraising and campaigning, and to find out what sort of plans he has in store for helping grow the arts scene in Columbus in the coming years.

Walker Evans: To start, can you tell us a bit about your personal and professional background?

Tom Katzenmeyer: I worked at the Statehouse for fifteen years in the Ohio House of Representatives, and at a couple of state agencies. When Dick Celeste was governor from ‘82 to ‘90, for about five of those years I was his head of legislative affairs. I was his lobbyist in the state legislature. I worked at The Limited for eighteen years and did almost all of their external stuff — investor relations, media relations, community relations — and I had a great run there being very, very grounded and involved in community activities. I served on non-profit boards and chaired non-profit boards. I spent some time leading some pretty big fundraising campaigns, which I really enjoyed a lot. And then Gordon Gee came calling and I went to work for him for five years. And now I’m here.

I chaired the FRAC (Funding Review Advisory Committee) about a year and a half ago. We did a nine month study on how arts and culture, travel and tourism, and human services are funded locally here. We looked at 49 other cities, and our primary focus was on the bed tax. But we also made about a half a dozen other recommendations on what could be done to bring more revenue and more resources into the public and private funding stream for all of those activities.

When that ended we made our report, and Milt Baughman made his decision to retire. I was pursued for this job, and even though I wasn’t really looking to leave the university, I’m very happy to be here. It’s a great thing for me to do now, after having woven in and out of the public and private sector here in Columbus. Knowing a lot of the civic leaders and the non-profit leaders; it’s such an opportunity for me to be able to lead and be the chief advocate of the arts and culture community in Columbus.

WE: So you’d say that you’ve always been connected to the local arts community through your work?

TK: Yes, throughout that whole timeline. I was a funder of the arts when I was at Limited Brands. I headed up the activities of their Foundation and their volunteer activities. Over the course of those eighteen years, I helped them raise money, and helped them find Limited executives to serve on their boards. I made many large grants over the course of time to Franklin Park, the Columbus Museum of Art, CCAD and CATCO. Limited Brands was one of the big benefactors of COSI, and still is.  There was always a heavy involvement in the arts, most notably with the Wexner Center. Limited Brands ran a fundraising campaign every year for the Wexner Center, usually the last weekend in October.

So that’s been my involvement, as well as just helping out where ever I can. So even some of these newer things like Wonderland — which I’ve come to know those people very well — just helping them out in the very early stages. Hopefully I’m in a better, stronger position now to continue to help.

WE: Can you tell us a bit more about the FRAC study process and findings for anyone who might not remember it from a few years ago?

TK: The thing that I think is pretty neat about it, was that it brought a lot of groups together for the first time for a common purpose. To do this study together, and to stick together, and to stay together and to collaborate together. I know that’s how Mayor Coleman and City Council President Andy Ginther feel about this too. Anything going forward from this point on, they really want us all working on it together. I have to underscore that because I think that there is power in that collaboration.

So the first result that came out of the FRAC study is that city government, in their most recent budget, changed the bed tax formula. So we now get a little bit more money out of that and it ended up resulting in another $2.1 million for Experience Columbus and over $500,000 more dollars for GCAC. So you’ve already seen sort of the ‘first plank’ of the FRAC recommendation enacted. To that, I’d like to thank Mayor Coleman and the members of City Council.

We’ve got great elected officials here that really understand the value of arts and culture in this community and now they’re showing that they are willing to put more money into it. They’re willing to invest more money into it and we’re going to take this ball and run with it now.

WE: I recall some discussion about how other cities fund their arts organizations outside of bed taxes. Are there other planks from the FRAC study that you’d like to see enacted in the near future?

TK: There are things that we’re definitely going to begin to take a deeper look at, and those are all things that would bring in more what I call ‘public revenue.’ Whether it’s revenue enhancements on parking or ticket pricing… we really didn’t recommend cigarette or liquor taxes, which other cities have done. Additional rental car fees were on that list. But now that the bed tax formula has been modified, I think that we’re ready to begin to look at some of these other systems. There’s not any one item that is at the top of the list and there’s so many impacts to each one of those individually that we’re ready to get going on it.

WE: So it sounds like a multi-pronged approach from both the public and private sector is what the results of the survey have in mind?

TK: Exactly.

WE: I recall that around the time of the A Way Forward event held at the Wexner Center in 2011, one of the issues raised was about alternative funding mechanisms because Columbus doesn’t necessarily have the long-term institutional monies that other cities have.

TK: We have to look at a combination of things. The arts and cultural organizations themselves are bringing in more earned income through whatever they are presenting, so that’s plank #1. There certainly has to be more public revenue coming in to the system, so we’ve just seen the city step up to the plate to do that. The rest of it has to be from individual and corporate support. It’s got to be a combination of all of those things, and I think we’re in a position here at the agency to advocate on behalf of all of that.

WE: It sounds like many arts organizations of all sizes and types are looking for help to simply get people to their shows. Are there any new approaches or tactics you have in mind to help fill some of those more immediate needs?

TK: We’ve just begun to have some very initial preliminary discussions about marketing as a whole. Marketing all of the arts entities and cultural features of the city as a whole and maybe developing a unified campaign… a unified branding effort behind it. Again, we’re in the very early stages, and that obviously would take some money to do that, but there’s definitely an interest.

We are also in the operating grant process right now. We’ve had 25 of the large art and cultural organizations come through here in the last two weeks. We spent an hour with each of them and they are all talking to us about marketing. They need help on marketing, and help collaborating together on marketing. It’s the most common issue and it goes back to getting people to the shows, which is one of the pillars of bringing more revenue into this whole sector. Jami Goldstein — the VP of Marketing at GCAC — and I have some ideas of things we want to run with, but there’s a lot of work ahead on that.

WE: Personally, what do you think the biggest challenges are in getting people to attend arts and cultural events?

TK: Here’s one thing… and this is just an observation from a couple of weeks on the job… but there is so much going on in Columbus and I think a lot of people just don’t know about it. They know about the sporting events going on, because they get a lot of coverage. You can look ahead and see when the Clippers or Blue Jackets or Red or Indians are playing, but there’s not as much of that for the arts. Of course, Columbus Underground provides an invaluable service with this area, but part of our challenge is to continue raising the awareness of what is going on. When I think about this weekend and the next couple of weekends, we could talk for a half an hour about what’s going to be happening in the city. I don’t know if that awareness level is there for everyone, so that’s just a starting point. Some of that can be achieved through paid and earned media, and just getting the word out there.

So again, I think there’s an opportunity to raise the awareness of the events through a collaboration in marketing. You’re seeing some of the non-profits do more things together, which I think is great. The Columbus Symphony and BalletMet did Rites of Spring together. CATCO and the Columbus Museum of Art did their Red show together. Some of this stuff happens accidentally, and some of it happens very deliberately. I think we can do more and more things like that to raise awareness and get people out.

WE: Do you think there’s a challenge to overcome with the way media consumption has changed over the past few years? It’s so much easier now to watch any movie you want on demand, or listen to any song on demand, and you can take in these things on any device at home, work or on the go. Do you think that it may put up an extra barrier in getting people away from all of the options they have at their fingertips with technology?

TK: I think what we have to offer is much more of an experience than just watching something on a small screen. Most of the arts and culture events in Columbus are very tactile, whether you are listening or watching something. I know that people are, in this day and age, used to doing two or three things at the same time, so there might be ways to address that more in the future. Certainly it applies to where people are getting their information from.

WE: So, you’ve been on the job for approximately 10 days, what are your next 30 to 60 days going to look like?

TK: There’s some short term things… we have decisions to make about the operating grants, which we’ll hopefully do by the end of April or early May, so that’s part of the cadence of the work that we do here. We have a fantastic Arts Festival to stage from June 7-9, so that’s very exciting. The festival has been set in motion for awhile, so it will be great for me to walk into that and welcome everyone.

The longer term stuff right now is the funding and the resource generation that we talked about earlier… bringing everyone together on that.

WE: Sounds great. Thanks for taking the time today, Tom!

TK: My pleasure.

For more information on the Greater Columbus Arts Council, visit www.gcac.org.

Photo by Pam Reece.

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