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CLEVELAND, OHIO (April 18, 2018) – Karen Gahl-Mills, CEO & executive director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) for the past eight years, is leaving the public grantmaking organization effective June 7, 2018, and plans to expand her teaching practice in Chicago.
“I’m so proud of the work our team has done together since 2010 to make more people aware of the fantastic work coming from artists and arts organizations in Cuyahoga County, but it’s time for a new challenge for me and time for new leadership at CAC,” Gahl-Mills said.
Board of Trustees President Joseph P. Gibbons said a search will begin soon for a new leader.
“Karen will be missed, and I am grateful for her passion and dedication to arts and culture and for her leadership on behalf of CAC. Fortunately, I believe we will continue to benefit from Karen’s hard work and I am confident that we can depend on the excellent staff at CAC to keep moving our mission forward as we work through this transition,” Gibbons said.
Gahl-Mills, who has taught at Indiana University and the University of Chicago, said that she now will expand her teaching practice there as well as at Northwestern University while exploring consulting projects with the Civic Consulting Alliance, a Chicago-based organization that identifies and addresses key issues facing the city.
Prior to joining CAC, Gahl-Mills was president and executive director of the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, executive director of the Westchester Philharmonic in White Plains, N.Y., and worked in the film and television industry in Chicago and Los Angeles. She holds a Bachelor of Music degree from DePaul University and an MBA from the University of Chicago.
Gahl-Mills is the second executive director in the history of CAC, which was created in 2006 after Cuyahoga County residents approved a tax on cigarettes to support arts and culture across the county.
Since 2007, CAC has invested more than $170 million in more than 375 organizations involved with arts and culture across the county, with Gahl-Mills overseeing much of that.
In recent years, that grant making has gotten more challenging as tax revenues have declined in concert with the decline in smoking. That trend is expected to continue as tax revenues were down 13 percent in the first quarter of 2018 compared with 2017.
With less money to distribute, Gahl-Mills said tougher choices have had to be made, leading naturally to tension in the arts community over who gets the money for what project. At times, Gahl-Mills acknowledged, she has been the target of that criticism.
However, she takes it in stride: “I always tried to remember that at the root of any criticism was passion for the arts – a passion I share,” Gahl-Mills said. “Hearing from the public is actually a part of the CEO’s job that I treasure, whether that feedback is positive or negative. I hope that the community recognizes that CAC is committed to continuing to listen to the public, particularly as we tackle difficult issues around equity in our grantmaking; I know that our dedicated staff will continue to carry that important work forward.”
Gahl-Mills noted that CAC now is serving more organizations than ever in its history and in 2015 Cuyahoga County voters renewed the tax to support arts and culture by a 75 percent margin – overwhelming support that Gahl-Mills said at the time “speaks to the power and strength of the cultural institutions in our community.”
“Our mission is to inspire and strengthen the community by investing in arts and culture,” Gahl-Mills said. “CAC has done that, at the rate of millions of dollars every year supporting tens of thousands of arts and culture events. I know that work will continue. And I trust that the arts in Cuyahoga County will only grow stronger.”
Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC) is one of the largest public funders for arts and culture in the nation, helping hundreds of organizations in Cuyahoga County connect millions of people to cultural experiences each year. Since 2007, CAC has invested $170 million in 375 organizations both large and small, making our community a more vibrant place to live, work and play. For more information, visit cacgrants.org.