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Published: Thursday, 5/2/2002

`Arts czar' is ordered to give city elegant look

BY REBEKAH SCOTT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Susan Reams, Toledo's new “arts czar,” will call to order the city's arts community leaders Monday in Mayor Jack Ford's 22nd-floor suite in Government Center.

“We want the city to be elegant,” she said, echoing His Honor's favorite buzzword. “We want Toledo to be a destination. The arts are an important part of that.”

Mrs. Reams' official title is “arts consultant,” a position similar to one that was created two years ago in Indianapolis.

Mayor Ford asked her in February to take a job uniting, igniting, and mobilizing the city's many arts organizations. It's a brand-new position, and she answers only to the mayor.

She moved her things into a desk in the mayor's office suite three weeks ago and, if City Council approves at its meeting Tuesday, she'll be paid $25,000 per year as a part-time employee. At 10 a.m. Monday, about 35 representatives from the area's largest arts organizations - the symphony, art museum, ballet, opera - will help her define her vision for the city.

“I want to discuss what the city can do for them, and what they can do for the city,” she said. “I think people want to come together and form partnerships, but we've never all really gotten together before. I want to make this a really positive experience for everyone.”

Many of the faces at the table will be familiar to her.

The Perrysburg Township resident was appointed to the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo by Mayor Harry Kessler in 1974 and has been a member ever since, producing a municipal art plan, ToledoFest art festivals, workshops, lectures, and fund-raisers.

She headed a drive to set aside 1 percent of the city's capital improvements budget for public art, the “One Percent for Art” program, which passed city council in 1977 and set the pace for similar programs throughout the country - and eventually added 42 pieces of artwork to the city's streets, parks, and buildings.

“I resigned my mayoral appointment to the [arts] commission when I took this job,” she said, “but I'll continue to serve as chair of the Art in Public Places Committee.” She sees no conflict of interest in keeping the post, as all decisions are made by committee vote.

Heather Rohrs, executive director at the arts commission, said she is glad to see the mayor supporting the arts in an active, innovative way. Even though the organization was created to meet the same needs, she's glad to have any kind of help with the mission. “I don't see Susan as replacing us,” she said. “Her work is more `in addition to,' not `instead of.' It's supplemental,” she said. “She'll hopefully provide a more intense connection to the city.”

Ms. Rohrs said any conflict of interest Mrs. Reams might have may be mooted when her term as Art in Public Places chair expires in June.

Without a mayoral appointment, the commission executive board will vote over the summer to replace or retain her in that slot. “We're being very careful with our checks and balances,” Ms. Rohrs said.

Mrs. Reams said she will remain on the boards of the Toledo Symphony, Toledo Museum of Art, and Toledo Cultural Arts Center, the parent group of The Valentine Theatre. “Susan has an irrepressible love for art - and for politics,” said Robert Bell, chief executive officer of the symphony. “It sounds like a perfect job for her.”

Politics runs in the Reams family. Her husband, Frazier Reams, Jr., was a state senator and an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Ohio governor in 1966. His father, Frazier Reams, Sr., was a Lucas County prosecutor and served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“As for her position on our board and any conflict of interest,” Mr. Bell said, “I think the ball is more in her court than ours. It's her decision to make. This is brand-new information to us, so there hasn't been any discussion with our trustees or board members,” Mr. Bell said.

The job “was the mayor's idea,” Mrs. Reams said. “With me, he doesn't have to reinvent the wheel. I know a lot of people and can form the partnerships we need.”


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