A Tribute as Karen completes two amazing years as ArtsWave’s Board Chair

A relative newcomer to Cincinnati, Karen Bowman joined the ArtsWave board in 2007, establishing herself as a key strategist at a time when a decades-old institution was at a critical juncture for transformational change. 

During the recession, ArtsWave, like other community campaigns, lost traction; it was a wake-up call for fresh thinking. ArtsWave developed a new sensitivity to its corporate donors’ focus on the demonstration of community impact -- health, social services, and education were light years ahead of the arts in this arena.  In 2010, ArtsWave changed its name from the Fine Arts Fund to reflect a new focus on engaging community through the arts. In 2011, Karen led a team of stakeholders that developed a plan to measure the impact of the arts on community priorities, in order to expand and deepen support for the arts and inform ArtsWave’s distribution of dollars.  

As head of the Measuring the Impact Team, Karen established a learning path for ArtsWave to transition from a sixty-year cycle of historical  grantmaking (based on organization size and steady incremental growth) to developing a methodical process for measuring the contribution of individual arts organizations on two relevant issues - creating economic vitality and a more connected community.  The Team created a program theory and related logic model that demonstrated the relationship between ArtsWave’s grantmaking process and key community impacts. This “pathway to impact” would eventually form the primary basis for a new grantmaking framework, begun in 2012, and it is also the basis for our evolving initiatives to drive ever-greater impact through strategic investments in arts organizations and other community partners.  

Dramatic change rarely comes without tension, and upon assuming the board chairmanship in 2012, Karen conducted many conversations with both the challengers and enthusiasts for this movement; her personal investments of time, tenacity and financial resources to this effort have been incalculable and invaluable. Karen, in particular, helped to engage key arts leaders and board members in thinking about this change.  

Karen’s articulation of impact has paved the way for the arts to become a more visible member in the integrated conversations that are taking place throughout the region - Agenda 360, Vision 2015 and STRIVE, for example.  Karen’s connections – from United Way to the Chamber - have ensured that the arts have a “seat at the table” as an indispensable, sharable community asset.  These links have been parlayed to grantmaking partnerships with Interact for Health and LISC in alignment with broader community goals.  The arts are moving from a stance centered solely on the needs of their patrons, to one focused on the impact of the arts on the interests of the community.        

Karen, thank you for being a great leader in a time of great change. You have truly made an impact on ArtsWave and our region for years to come.