ArtsWave recently welcomed Ray Gargano to its leadership team as vice president of community investments. Gargano will lead the grantmaking process for the nation’s largest community arts campaign and the greatest source of local arts funding for many organizations. Working closely with businesses, civic and arts stakeholders, Gargano will help ArtsWave advance its 10-year Blueprint for Collective Action.

In recruiting Gargano, ArtsWave was drawn to his most recent experience with the arts and culture department within the City of Sacramento, where he was the grant programs officer. In that role, he worked to advance cultural diversity, equity, inclusion and access initiatives. Gargano has begun to apply that knowledge to Lifting as We Learn, ArtsWave’s DEIA strategy and commitment. Gargano arrives at nearly the midpoint in the artmaking timeline for 27 projects ArtsWave has commissioned that will speak to the complexities of truth and reconciliation, after a year marked by the pandemic and displays of systemic racism, racial injustice and disparities confronting Black and Brown individuals.

Gargano’s Sacramento experience includes management and distribution of $20 million in government funds through CARES Act funding. His expertise comes at a time when ArtsWave is actively managing the distribution of arts dollars at both city and county levels. ArtsWave will manage $7 million that the City of Cincinnati has allocated to support performing arts organizations and public performances and invest as part of the American Rescue Plan. Over the past year, ArtsWave managed $3.5 million in funding for arts organizations through Hamilton County, $200,000 in individual artist relief through the City of Cincinnati as well as $75,000 in Black and Brown artist grants (this was on top of ArtsWave’s annual investment of $10 million through the ArtsWave Community Campaign).

Gargano holds a B.S. in communications and education from Kent State University and an M.A. in instructional technology from the University of Akron. Gargano plans to use his teaching background to create ways that ArtsWave can grow as both a resource and connector for organizations. “I think we have the opportunity to really look at the impact of the arts in the Cincinnati region and set new goals as we begin the next five years with the Blueprint for Collective Action,” Gargano said, referring to ArtsWave’s 10-year strategy used for allocating and evaluating its funding investments. He adds, “The Blueprint isn’t just a yardstick for ArtsWave; it’s a strategy that has become a shared mindset and belief that the arts affect the region’s quality of life and its future.”

Over the past few months, Gargano has experienced this sentiment firsthand. After attending a Culture Forum in newly reactivated Walnut Hill’s 5 Points Alley, organized by Cincy Nice, he notes how refreshing it was to see presenters speak optimistically about culture propelling the region forward. Unlike other cities, Gargano believes that “in Cincinnati, the arts are a part of the solution — sewn into the fabric of the region — as opposed to a separate, standalone industry that has rare connections to the region as a whole.”

“Coming out of pandemic, the arts are going to look different. It’s exciting to be part of the conversation that determines what that looks like, with everyone the arts touch, whether that’s artists, funders, businesses or political leaders,” Gargano says. He comes to ArtsWave and the region at an important and potentially transformational time.