Marc Folk, executive director of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo.
Jetta Fraser Enlarge
Marc Folk is shooting for both street cred and fed cred.
"Were really trying to stay in there with those networks at the state and federal level so we can have a seat at the table," said Folk, executive director of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo. "Were trying to get as high as we can to find out whats going on at the top level and stay connected at the street level."
Landing invitations be it from the Americans for the Arts, Ohio Citizens for the Arts, or the 22nd floor of One Government Center is all the more likely when one is passionate, knowledgeable, hardworking, and thoroughly engaging. Folk will be honored Wednesday with a seat at Governor Ted Stricklands table when he receives the Governors Award for the Arts for leading and strengthening the local arts commission. Nine people were chosen from 103 nominations.
"Its for the staff and the board," said Folk, deflecting the glory. At 35, hes among the youngest winners in the awards 38-year-history.
The nominating letter reads, in part: "When he joined its administration in 2002, the ACGT was regarded by a significant segment of the arts community as an elitist and organizationally and fiscally weak institution. That has all changed." Carol Cartwright, president of Bowling Green State University, and Katerina Ray, the universitys director of the art school, signed the letter.
"The arts in the City of Toledo and Northwest Ohio have grown in unprecedented ways as a result of Marc Folks visionary leadership," it continues, "he is that rare figure who is as comfortable in the Mayors office as at a slam poetry reading, who can energize the CEO of a corporation as well as a street performer, and is as skilled at handling budgets as picture frames."
In recent years, the commission has helped coordinate a slew of events, including Artomatic 419 (a showcase of 150 artists and performers; the next ones will be April 18, April 25, and May 2 at 201 Morris St.), Art Walks in the downtown warehouse district, the Jazz Loop, and Meet and Greets.
It expanded the Ninth Congressional District High School Art Invitational Exhibition. And, its played a key role in the lit obelisk on the Veterans Memorial Skyway bridge, art at Fifth Third Field, and several pieces at the new downtown arena.
A graduate of the University of Toledo (he specialized in sculpture and printmaking) and Clay High School (where he discovered how deeply he connected with art), Folk is homegrown talent who stayed. He was named one of the 20 Under 40 leaders in 2007.
Hes worked at the commission in several capacities since 2000, and took the helm in 2006.
"I think its just humming along," observed Susan Reams, adding that ACGT is the most vigorous its been in the decades shes worked for the arts. The agency has one part-time and five full-time employees and a budget of $626,762. Folks salary is $62,000.
He grew up in Oregon, the middle of three boys. His father, Robert Folk, is a retired Chrysler engineer; his mother, Jane Vargo, an office administrator. Both are wood-carving hobbyists.
A doer, Folk remodels his 1887-vintage home in the Old West End, and spends a few evenings a week painting in his downtown studio. Hes loved hip-hop music for 20 years, collecting thousands of albums, and Friday nights he deejays at Wesleys Bar & Grill. Divorced, he shares custody of Holden, his 2 -year-old-son.
His second-floor office in the Professional Building has a view of the citys most playful sculpture: Blubber, the giant tire swing across Monroe Street on grounds of the Toledo Museum of Art. With a milk-chocolate voice, Folk is not only charismatic but adept at building teams.
"But most importantly he has turned the ACGT around so that we are now a strong force in the community. Quite simply he makes people feel good about volunteering, giving credit when due, and has turned both Mayors [Carty Finkbeiner and Jack Ford] into fans of the arts and public art in particular," Reams wrote in a supporting letter to the Ohio Arts Council.
"Hes just a very likeable guy," Reams told The Blade. (She received the Governors Award last year for nearly 50 years of tireless arts activism.) When she was the "art czar" for former mayor Ford, she spoke with Folk almost daily.
"To be able to get along with people, you can work on your goals. I like to work with positive people because then you really get things done."
In 1997, Folk began teaching sculpture at ACGTs Young Artist at Work summer program. Not long out of college, he took art jobs whenever possible, but paid the bills doing carpentry, roofing, and lamp repair. He loved working with the young artists.
"Helping the kids grow, watching them turn around, it would make my year," he said.
In 2000, he landed a full-time, $26,000 a year job coordinating public art at ACGT. "Which was a jump because they dont teach you about arts administration when you get a studio degree," he said. The agency was in tumult: he was the seventh person to hold the job in four years.
"I thought if I did something less physically demanding in the day time, Id have more energy to create art at night."
Wrong. The job was not only demanding 35 hours a week stretched to 45 and 50 it was isolated: nobody else in town had a job like his. He oversaw several commissioned public art works to completion, created a conservation plan for scores of public sculptures, updated the local artist registry, and connected with a network of people who handled public art in other cities.
During that stint, he inspected nearly all 50 pieces of public art throughout the county. More than once he pulled soap bottles out of the fountain on Harvard Boulevard and hes gone to scrap yards to search for stolen bronze and brass pieces.
In 2004, he became the commissions interim director, and then the artistic director when the commissions large board (it has 46 members) split the leadership role, hiring another person to handle administration.
"They [the board] didnt think I had the business skills to run the organization," he said. "When I didnt get the executive director position, I didnt quit. I believed in the organization."
But staff quit and instability continued. "I thought, this is the day I can walk out the door or I stay and we fix this stuff." In 2006, he was named executive director.
ACGT will receive $122,821 from the new federal budget to help market the work of northwest Ohio artists, arranged by U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who also wrote in support of Folks award. "Weve tried for several years to help the arts commission here," she said. "This got funded because of the business piece of it."
Kaptur called Folk positive and a negotiator.
"This man can see the forest above the trees. He lives and breathes the arts and he can see the growth potential of the arts for our community. Often theres inward thinking. He sees ways to connect our artists with the world. He can fly above it. We have not had that in so many sectors."
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