Hartford is losing a chief executive of its arts council, but not a resident committed to the city's success
November 13, 2008
After nine years running the Greater Hartford Arts Council, Ken Kahn is ready to move on, but only to another job that will keep him involved in what he believes will be the eventual renaissance of the city.
"Hartford has great character and it's the center of an amazing region," said Kahn. "It needs to be restored or advanced to a position of real affluence and literacy in every sense, arts included."
The 66-year-old Kahn will step down as chief executive officer of the Arts Council on June 30 of next year, and fully expects to have already "onboarded" his successor before he leaves. The search for the next CEO is well underway.
He leaves behind an Arts Council that has grown to become one of the strongest in the region, with a $5.3 million budget and the support of some 300 corporations and 5,000 individuals. The council has supported the area's arts institutions with grants for the past 37 years, as well as sponsoring programs for local schoolchildren. But Kahn knows the arts are hardly immune from the economic crisis gripping the nation.
"Our record is very good but I'm very concerned that we weather the storm and come out the other end remaining useful to this community," he said.
Kahn's spacious office overlooking Pratt Street is lined with his own paintings, landscapes from his neighborhood on Charter Oak Place, and from the idyllic countryside surrounding the small cabin in Maine he and his wife, actress and teacher Anne Lynn Kettles, bought many years ago.
The couple was relieved to be back on familiar ground — not to mention within a five-hour drive of their cabin — when Kahn left his position as president of the Arts Council of Fort Worth and Tarrant County in Texas in 1999 after 9 years on the job to accept the position in Hartford. Two of their four children also live in the area.
Before Texas, Kahn held the directorships of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs from 1982 to 1990, and the Maryland State Arts Council from 1975 to 1982.
"This work becomes repetitive after eight or nine years and it's time to move on," he said.
While in Texas, Kahn worked under the administration of then-Gov. George W. Bush. He says the former governor and current president made it quite clear he had no interest in the arts.
"He couldn't care less and he told me so personally," said Kahn. "'If you want to talk about the arts, you talk to Laura.' That's a quote he said to me in an airport. He was friendly enough, but dismissive. It was not on his agenda, any more than it was nationally as president."
But President-elect Barack Obama, says Kahn, offers new hope for the arts.
"Obama has put out a very strong statement in support of the arts," he said.
There have been car break-ins and occasional assaults near Kahn's renovated 1875 carriage house on Charter Oak Place, but he says he and his wife will not be moving to their cabin in Maine, or back to New York where he grew up on Long Island.
"I like getting involved on a grassroots level, whether it's picking up trash or having potluck suppers with our neighbors," said Kahn. "Our group is black, white, Latino, mostly professional, some older, some younger, but everybody is committed to being in Hartford and making it a better place."