Performing Arts

Harlan Brownlee, CEO of ArtsKC council, steps down

Harlan Brownlee and Linda Putthoff at their home. Brownlee has announced that he will resign as president and CEO of ArtsKC to pursue opportunities in arts education.
Harlan Brownlee and Linda Putthoff at their home. Brownlee has announced that he will resign as president and CEO of ArtsKC to pursue opportunities in arts education. skeyser@kcstar.com

Harlan Brownlee, president and CEO of ArtsKC for more than six years, will resign to pursue opportunities in arts education.

ArtsKC is the regional arts council that has, among other things, crafted a five-county cultural plan and has given millions of dollars to local artists and organizations through its ArtsKC Fund.

Brownlee’s last day will be July 31.

“I’ve been here 6 1/2 years and I feel like I’ve done some great things being here,” Brownlee said. “Getting through the recession and keeping things intact as an arts organization, I felt, was a major accomplishment. … I feel this is a good point in time to transition. I’m fortunate to be in a place where I can think about what I want to do.

“A lot of my background is in arts education. I think there’s someplace in there for me. … It wasn’t an easy decision to make, obviously, but I think the time is right.”

Brownlee said overseeing the regional cultural plan was the most satisfying part of his tenure.

“It is the first time we have a shared vision for the five counties, and having that and understanding that information will go a long way to advancing the arts,” he said. “We know so much more about what people are looking for and what they want and what would define success for them.”

Equally satisfying, he said, was the development of a “really fine team here at ArtsKC.”

The most frustrating aspect of the job?

“Wanting things to go faster, wanting the process to be quicker,” he said. “I haven’t always been patient. When you’re working at an agency like this, so much more of your work is about collaboration. … And that process can be really messy at times. Sometimes it takes a while to get everyone together on these things.”

Brownlee said he had seen a shift in attitudes about the arts during his time with the council.

“There is a growing sense of just how valuable the arts are to our community,” he said. “I see it from people in business and people in government. But also a sense of how the arts help build community and connect people.”

On July 30 the council will announce how much the ArtsKC Fund has raised for the year. Brownlee said the fund has contributed $3.1 million to local artists overall and $2.5 million during his tenure. The fund is supported by workplace giving campaigns at local businesses as well as grants from corporations, foundations and government agencies.

Becky Blades, chairwoman of the ArtsKC board, said a search committee to replace Brownlee would be formed immediately. She added that an interim CEO would be appointed soon.

The search committee, Blades said, would consider candidates in Kansas City and from across the country.

“I think a national search is certainly worth doing,” Blades said. “I think the arts scene in Kansas City is growing and exciting enough to attract candidates from all over.”

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

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