After a series of resignations, Nashville’s new mayor has the unenviable task of restructuring the Metro Arts Commission. Five nominees are up for vote at tonight’s council meeting, which has the potential of bringing O’Connell’s total of Arts Commission appointees up to six within the last two months.
Back in 2022, Metro Arts Executive Director Caroline Vincent resigned upon allegations of creating a “toxic work environment plagued by racial bias.” After a four-month, nationwide search following Vincent’s resignation, the commission settled on Daniel Singh, a former board member of Maryland Citizens for the Arts: a move some now consider an over-corrective swing in the opposite direction.
Today, as the council weighs in on the latest handful of nominees proposed to fill all but two of the commission’s seven vacant seats, new appointees will be walking into a lion’s den of scrutiny due to grant money that has gone missing under Singh’s leadership.
THE MAYOR’S NOMINEES
Timothy Jester: Jester describes himself as a “faithful husband, father, friend, financial advisor and fiddler, in that order.” A certified financial planner at Roussel & Associates, and a graduate of Southern Adventist University in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he also uses his musical skills as a volunteer for Musicians On Call.
Heather Lefkowitz: “A teacher, artist, and advisor to works-in-progress” according to her website, Lefkowitz lectures and leads undergraduate advising at Peabody College’s Department of Human and Organizational Development. A Vanderbilt grad, she also chairs the board of the Actors Bridge Ensemble.
Arlene Nicholas-Phillips: A doctor of education, Nicholas-Phillips is the Assistant Vice President for Global Initiatives & Partnerships at Tennessee State University. She is also the founder of RenuVita, where she coaches the “benefits of yoga and the knowledge of how money works.”
Dawana Wade: Wade is the Executive Director of Salama Urban Ministries, a nonprofit that provides a year-round “holistic program that emphasizes academics, the arts, and spiritual development” to students in the Nashville area.
Beverly Watts: Perhaps the most controversial of the bunch, Watts is the retired former director of the Tennessee Human Rights Commission. In 2022, she took her leave from the commission after the state looked into multiple complaints and allegations that her leadership “created a toxic work environment through profanity, demeaning language, and micromanaging.”
Before becoming members of the Metro Arts Commission, all nominees have to be approved by the council and are subject to discussions on the floor during tonight’s vote.