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Meet the Staff: Ken Emerick

Meet the Staff: Ken Emerick, Artist Programs and Percent for Art Director

If you’re an artist in Ohio, he probably knows you and your work. If you haven’t had the pleasure of meeting him, we're here to tell you more about the Ohio Arts Council’s (OAC) Ken Emerick. With a lengthy career at the OAC, there is little he hasn’t seen or done. He is our rock (and rocks plaid shirts like no one else), an all-knowing Ohio art historian, and a constant collaborator. Meet Artist Programs and Percent for Art Director Ken Emerick. 

Q: You attended Otterbein University and received your degree in music education. How did you make the transition from education to arts administration? 
I graduated from Otterbein with a B.A. in music education with certification in K–12 vocal and instrumental music and a minor in performance. When I graduated I worked for a year at the Columbus Museum of Art. They were in the process of acquiring the Sirak Collection and also were mounting a major exhibition of sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro, so it was a very busy and exciting time to be at the museum. 

A year later I heard about a position in the Individual Artist (IA) program at the OAC and was excited by the opportunity to work with artists from a variety of disciplines. The IA program also administered the Gund Gallery which highlighted artists supported by the Individual Artist program, and the OAC also just begun an extensive year long exhibition of Ohio artists' works at the Governor's Residence. These two projects enabled me to meet so many artists and to begin to learn about more about their art forms and creative processes. 

Q: You're the Individual Artists/Percent for Art Director—can you tell us a little bit about your role at the OAC? 
I am very fortunate to share these two programs with Kathy Signorino. We always say we have the best jobs at the OAC because we get to know and work with so many amazing artists, and both of these programs focus on the highest quality of artwork that is being created today. 

The Individual Excellence Awards provide ongoing learning experiences for us through the artist statements and the documentation of the artwork the artists use to apply to the program. We also are able to invite nationally recognized artists from around the country to serve as jurors for the awards. We learn so much from their observations and critical dialogue during their review of the applications.

Working on the public art projects through the Percent for Art program has enabled us to engage with the majority of Ohio's colleges and universities. So many of these institutions have amazing public art collections. Since each project is tied to a specific building and department, we learn so much about what makes each campus and facility unique not only to our state, but also nationally.

Q: We know it will be tough to choose, but what is one (or two) of your favorite OAC memories? 
Since the current exhibition at the Riffe Gallery (Flashback to Now: OAC Support for Individual Artists) is fresh in my mind, one of my favorite memories involves one of the artists included in the exhibition. Nancy Crow is recognized as one of the pivotal artists of the art quilt movement. My mother quilted for many years (and had even been the president of the Quilt Guild of South Florida). For many years she would fly into Columbus to attend the Quilt Surface Design Symposiums that were founded by Nancy Crow and Linda Fowler. The first year after mom moved to Columbus I was invited to a dinner at Nancy's home. I asked Nancy if I could bring her as my date. It was a great evening. Nancy and her husband John gave us a tour of their complex of buildings, which included classrooms and studios, and we saw many of the pieces that Nancy currently was working on. I noticed my mom was unusually quiet during our visit. When we got in the car to drive home she said she was so overwhelmed to be in the presence of Nancy Crow and in awe of the entire evening.

She was so proud that my job at the OAC provided me with the opportunity to meet and know Nancy who was such an important and internationally known artist. It was definitely a rock star moment for my mom and made me proud to be a member of the OAC staff.

Q: You’re always behind the scenes helping out somehow. Aside from your day-to-day, tell us how your job extends beyond the title? 
Since 1985 the IA office has coordinated the exhibition of artwork by Ohio artists in the Governor's office and residence. I have worked with the past five administrations on this project and have had the opportunity to partner with the Office of the First Lady to evolve the program to reflect the interests and artistic point of view of each First Lady. The OAC also offers residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and we have a partnership exchange between the City of Dresden, Germany, and Zygote Press in Cleveland.

Following the careers of the artists that have participated in these programs, and the long term impact the experience has provided to their artwork and careers, has been amazing to witness. We have seen lives change as the result of these residencies.

The Ohio Arts Council's Riffe Gallery enables us to showcase the artists and artworks that have been funded through our programs. We also work with amazing Ohio curators who bring their vision and expertise to provide our audiences with powerful exhibitions.

Q: You’re originally from northeast Ohio and grew up along Lake Erie—tell us about your life-long passion for Cleveland. 
I am often kidded by the OAC staff that my car only drives I-71 north (which I counter with fact that I try to attend every "Cream of the Crop" exhibition held at the Southern Ohio Museum in Portsmouth). I grew up in Sheffield Lake, a small community on Lake Erie west of Cleveland. Almost all of my school field trips were to the Cleveland Museum of Art or the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. 

While I was in high school, every weekend my friends and I would attend as many plays and musicals as possible, produced by the many theatre groups located in the Cleveland area. Growing up I assumed that everyone had these same experiences. It wasn't until I left for college that I realized how lucky I was to have grown up in Cleveland and to have access to so many outstanding arts organizations and programs. 

My partner Todd and I have a seasonal calendar that revolves around Cleveland art events including the holiday studio open house at the ArtCraft Building, the Beck Center's annual musical production with Baldwin Wallace Theatre Department, the Dresden Print Exchange opening at Zygote Press, and the annual student exhibition at the Cleveland Institute of Art. 

Q: Can you share a little more about your I-71 weekend road trips and why you stay engaged with the arts beyond the 9 to 5? 
I am very fortunate that Todd is so interested in the arts. As a director of nursing at The Ohio State University, he's been involved in research and study in his field since I have known him. He sees so many parallels between the medical and arts communities and appreciates the experimentation and research artists rely on to create their work. On one of our first dates I took him to an artist studio open house and exhibition in Zanesville. He ended up talking most of the night to artist Linda Gall who kindly spent a great deal of time with him, explaining her processes and inspirations for her works.

We both enjoy the opportunity to get to know the artists and arts professionals we have met at various functions. We also like to support them by attending as many openings, lectures, performances, and events as possible. There never seems to be enough time to go to everything, but I don't think it's a bad problem to have.

Q: You and Todd boast an enviable collection of Ohio art; tell us how you grew your collection. Any tips you can give to someone just beginning to buy art? 
We have gotten to know so many artists as friends that we tend to purchase pieces from their exhibitions. Most of the colleges and universities in Ohio have an annual student exhibition which have amazing works by up-and-coming artists priced very reasonably. 

One of my favorite paintings was purchased at the CIA annual student exhibition, and we have an amazing ceramic sculpture we found at last year's CCAD student sale. I would encourage anyone that is beginning to collect art to also see if any of their local museums or arts organizations have an annual members exhibition. These shows really help to feature regional artists that might not be represented by a gallery, and there is typically a wide variety of works at the exhibitions. 

Ohio is also home to a number of printmaking cooperatives which have very active memberships. Since many prints are multiples they tend to be affordable, and there is such a range of techniques and process used in printmaking that the imagery and styles provide great variety.

Q: You have a particular affinity for photography, and though you don’t easily admit it, are a budding photographer yourself. How did you get into photography? 
I would not consider myself a photographer, but I would say that I am very interested in photography. I think my interest in photography is based in the idea that photography really began to be recognized as an art form during my lifetime. Due to photography exhibitions at the Columbus Museum of Art, Akron Art Museum, the Transformer Station, the Wexner Center, and other museums, I have really been intrigued by the history of photography.

Cleveland has a wonderful new organization, the Cleveland Print Room, that promotes the art and history of analogue photography. Last year we attended a lecture at the Cleveland Print Room on collecting found and vernacular photography. For the past eight years I have been collecting daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes but after the lecture we added found and vernacular photographs.

Q: Is there any advice you can give to an Ohio artist just starting out in their career? Any ways they should be engaging with the OAC? 
There are so many opportunities for artists offered by the OAC including the Individual Excellence Award grants and the Ohio Online Visual Artist Registry. We try to make our application processes simple and accessible. I would highly encourage anyone that applies to the Excellence Award program to attend the panel reviews. They are incredible learning experiences and the panelists provide such insight and knowledge during these reviews.

Q: Only because it shows you’re the all-knowing OAC guru, I have to point out that you’ve been at the agency longer than anyone else here (bravo). How has the agency changed over the years, and do you have any future insights? 
The agency has an amazing legacy of people that have worked here and helped to develop the programs and services that we offer. Back in the 1980s, when I first began with the OAC, I was in awe of the knowledge and talent that the staff had and the dedication to the organizations and artists that are in our state. 

Today we have so many new and young staff that have an abundance of energy which is helping to create a new vision for our agency and better ways to serve the community. The Individual Artist Program has had ongoing support from the OAC board and our executive directors. A number of years ago when states were facing funding shortages, many programs that provide grants to artists were eliminated. We have been very fortunate to not only have continued support for the Individual Excellence Awards, but we have been able to maintain our artist residencies and have a very active and recognized Percent for Art program. 

Finish these: 

I’m most proud of...the OAC Individual Artist Program. 
My colleagues are...amazing and bring a vast amount of knowledge and experience to the OAC. 
If I wasn’t working at the OAC...I would go back to school.
I can easily...reach out to others for help or advice. 
Most people don’t know...I also love to garden and work in the yard. 
If it weren't for the OAC...I would not have traveled internationally. 
I wish I had...studied art history.
The OAC amazing place to be. 
My favorite art...great theatre. 

Questions or comments for Ken? Email him at

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


Article by Molly Rutledge, PIO Intern

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