Karen Gahl-Mills to Leave Cuyahoga Arts & Culture

Karen Gahl-Mills
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The executive director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture (CAC), Karen Gahl-Mills, will leave her post this June. After eight years leading the grant-making organization, she plans to teach college courses and consult in Chicago.

CAC distributes public funds, raised through a county cigarette tax, to arts and cultural organizations, including ideastream.

“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 in the news release.

A search will begin soon for a successor. 

Throughout the past two years there has been some friction in the arts community over administration of the tax revenue. Last fall, CAC cut its budget for grants to local arts organizations by nearly 20 percent citing the drop in tobacco tax revenues. In 2016, CAC ended the Creative Workforce Fellowship grant program for individual artists. The organization has been revamping its approach for funding individual artists.

Gahl-Mills told ideastream that criticism did not affect her decision to leave. 

"I take the criticism absolutely in stride, and I take the praise that our agency has received in stride," she said. 

In her letter of resignation, Gahl-Mills said she and her husband are moving to Chicago in the summer, and she will be teaching courses at Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, her alma mater.

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish said in a statement, "Karen has played a critical role in the development and success of the organization."

Liz Maugans, a local arts advocate and artist, told ideastream its time for change at CAC.

“I think that they need a new vision,” she said. “There’s a lot of people within our own city that I think could really be fantastic [leading CAC], that know the history of the CAC and how this money was developed and what it’s to be used for.”

CAC board chairman Joe Gibbons said he was disappointed to learn of Gahl-Mills’ resignation.

“I think she was a very thoughtful, steady leader,” he said. “I think she gathered a really talented, smart, dedicated group of people as the CAC staff.”

Gahl-Mills arrived in 2010 and was at the helm when voters renewed the tax levy for arts in culture in 2015.

CAC has distributed more than $170 million to arts and cultural organizations since it began in 2006.



December 12, 2017: "New Plan to Fund Artists Unveiled"

November 14, 2017: "Cuts in Cuyahoga Arts & Culture Funding Revealed"

November 16, 2017: "Planning Group Proposes Changes in Artist Funding"

December 13, 2016: "Northeast Arts Community Packs CAC Meeting to Voice Concerns About Artist Funding"

December 7, 2016: "Questions About Funding for Artists"

October 30, 2015: "Cigarette Tax Renewal Campaign Comes to a Head"

October 1, 2014: "How Do We Put a Value on the Work of Artists?"

August 29, 2006: "Ethics of a Cigarette Tax"

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