Pusateri’s FFA Campaign Promises to Be Extremely Different

One couldn’t help but approach yesterday’s 2012 Fund for the Arts Campaign Kickoff and Arts Showcase with an added curiosity. It was, after all, the inaugural fanfare for Louisville’s first arts season in 35 years that has not rolled out under the reign of legendary Allan Cowen.

Louisville’s ears have been pricked for signs of transformation. Indeed there would have to be—the Fund for the Arts moving from the leadership of a life-long arts enthusiast who spent his childhood in the concert halls of Pittsburg, to a home-builder-turned-philanthropist with an admitted indifference to classical music. There couldn’t be two personalities more unlike, and yet the retired Cowen and recently appointed Campaign Chairman Joe Pusateri share an undeniable mastery of fundraising.

FFA Campaign Chairman Joe Pusateri

They also both know how to put on a good show. But this years’ campaign has a distinctly Pusateri theme: our new Fund for the Arts Chairman hopes 2012  will be an “Extreme” arts season. It’s a strange qualifier—one that I associate more with voyeuristic shows on TLC than I do with black box plays at Actors’. But I gotta hand it to the guy, the figures show that Pusateri knows what he’s doing. Pusateri is aiming to top Cowen’s impressive $8 million record with a $9.2 million goal for this year—and he’s already on track to do so. In the first 31 days of 2012, the FFA has raised a whopping $4.3 million! That tops the 2008 record for January of $3.96 million. It would seem that however unconventional, Pusateri’s tactics are working “extremely” well.

The line-up for yesterday’s performances was appropriately youth-heavy. Walden Theatre sent two middle-school actresses to play a tongue-in-cheek vignette from Dorothy & Alice and Stage One Family Theatre did a wholesome number from Madeline’s Christmas. The Louisville Youth Orchestra sent its sax section to play a jazzy, scale-riffing Saxophone Symphonette, and the Louisville Youth Choir sang a foot-tapping gospel number.

There were a few acts that stood out—one being a hilarious excerpt from Coffee Later?, penned by precocious high school playwright Matt Brown. Leads from the Kentucky Opera got a little hot and heavy to sing a steamy selection from The Merry Widow. Although brilliantly sung, it was undoubtedly performed much to the embarrassment of the swaths of school-kids in the audience, who apparently couldn’t handle seeing a man without his shirt on in the Louisville Ballet’s performance of T’es La Seule. A resounding “ewwwwww!” filled the theatre as the lights went up on on the shirtless male dancer. I had the exact opposite reaction, especially as he and his female partner turned out a jubilant and thoughtful performance. The choreography, set to a Books song, was decidedly cerebral without losing a kind of emotional honesty—probably my favorite performance of the program.

For the grand finale, Pusateri’s team brought in special guest Patrick Henry Hughes, one of our city’s most charismatic and entertaining pianists and performers. Surrounded by Louisville Youth Choir kids in FFA T-shirts and cheap sunglasses, Hughes closed the program with a Ray Charles number. The audience couldn’t help but clap, sing along, and hopefully for the Fund, pull out their pocketbooks.