Notables in Exhibiting Arts & Culture

Movers & Makers asked exhibiting arts organizations to introduce their notables to our readers, part of a regular feature highlighting people making a difference in Greater Cincinnati’s nonprofit community. 


Karen Etling

Karen Etling oversees Baker Hunt’s expansion, rebranding

Karen Etling is the executive director at Baker Hunt Art & Cultural Center. In the six years she has served in that post, the center has rebranded, created a new website, built a teaching kitchen, revised the wheel studio, renovated a building and survived COVID-19. Under her leadership, Baker Hunt has hosted 14 art shows and a perpetual art show at DBL Law. Many of the shows focused on the work of Baker Hunt students. The center serves more than 6,000 students a year, in classes taught on campus as well as free clubs and camps in 13 local schools. It also provides art and cooking programming in six senior communities. When Etling is not hosting on campus, she is in the community taking photographs. Her favorite photos to take are of plants, animals and insects. She also loves to sew, knit, cook and garden.

M. Katherine Hurley

Kay Hurley sparks Art Club’s renovation project

When someone lights a sparkler on the top of a birthday cake, it’s a little frightening and spectacular at the same time. That’s the effect M. Katherine “Kay” Hurley, development chair at the Cincinnati Art Club, is having on fundraising to renovate the club’s 66-year-old building. She has orchestrated 90 artists to create work on 12”x12” panels, which will be exhibited in a silent auction on Oct. 28. Hurley is an outstanding artist in her own right and so are her friends who will paint panels. Kay’s undaunted spirit has helped focus the financial “big lift” needed to renovate the building. And like any good artist who stands before a blank canvas, she’s fearless and believes in her ability to make something good. Her true passion, besides family and painting, is connecting people through art to make a difference. 

Emily Versoza

Emily Versoza nurtures emerging artists at CCAC

Emily Versoza is the heart and soul of the exhibitions program at the Clifton Cultural Arts Center. Throughout Versoza’s tenure as gallery manager at CCAC, she has featured dozens of diverse, emerging artists, many of whom are exhibiting for the first time in a professional gallery. A graduate of the Art Academy of Cincinnati, Emily is an artist and an arts enthusiast, contributing a great deal to the accessibility and inclusivity of the visual arts in our community. Her patience, keen eye and humility are gifts to the visual arts in Cincinnati. When not at work in one of CCAC’s gallery spaces, she’s honing her green thumb through the cultivation of spicy peppers, tomatoes, and a variety of other veggies in her backyard garden.

Ricky Pleasant

Ricky Pleasant helps Art Academy students reach goals

The Art Academy of Cincinnati would like to highlight its dean of students, Ricky Pleasant. A native Cincinnatian, Pleasant has had a career that spans the education and arts/entertainment industries, where he’s been able to focus on his passion of helping others find fulfillment in their purpose and achieve their personal goals. When Pleasant is not working, he enjoys watching movies, finding new musical artists to listen to, and spending time with his wife and new twin daughters. Most people don’t know that Pleasant is the owner of Breakaway Comics, which creates comic books that only tell half the story, allowing readers to write and draw their own endings. 

Scott Johnson

Scott Johnson hones visitor-centric focus for Taft Museum

Scott Johnson, director of visitor experience for the Taft Museum of Art, has a passion for hospitality and a proven track record of success in creating a visitor-centric approach. On your next visit to the Taft, you surely will see his touches on the Lindner Family Café, the Museum Shop, corporate and custom events and everywhere in between. From the galleries to the gift shop, Scott and his team are always exploring and re-envisioning the museum experience and how the museum can create a meaningful, one-of-a-kind urban getaway.

Katie Baker

Katie Baker draws on talents to boost Manifest Gallery

Katie Baker is senior exhibition coordinator and curatorial assistant at Manifest Gallery. A member of the Manifest team for 11 years, she has tirelessly handled the work behind the scenes that helps make great art exhibitions happen. Baker has overseen the coming and going of countless boxes and crates of artwork shipped to Cincinnati from around the world, and she has applied the craftsmanship of installation and lighting for a majority of Manifest’s 459 exhibits, including 10,000 works by over 4,000 artists, helping put Manifest on the global map. Baker is herself a master artist, so her role has served both thousands of artists and the regional public, embodying Manifest’s ethos of being by artists for artists, for the public. She is a virtuoso, ceaseless drawer. She maintains a studio in Camp Washington and is a fan of birds, bats and alien conspiracies.

Sean Mendell

Sean Mendell helps inspire young artists with BCM programs

Sean Mendell has over a decade of experience in education, supporting youth development in the arts. Co-founder of the Children’s Art Academy and assistant director at Behringer-Crawford Museum, he continues to inspire young artists in our region. He also has a strong passion for promoting the culture and rich history of our region. Mendell’s ability to engage and inspire students is evident as a team member of BCM, which offers over 19 educational programs for local schools and serves around 35,000 visitors through museum visits and outreach programs each year. Mendell was part of the NKY Chamber’s Leadership Class of 2022 and is a committee member for Educational Day for incoming classes. An outdoor enthusiast, Mendell is an avid kayaker and builds custom guitars.

Aaron Cowan

Aaron Cowan oversees UC’s art collection, galleries

Aaron Cowan serves as the University of Cincinnati Art Collection’s manager and curator, overseeing day-to-day operations, doing strategic planning and providing a clear vision for the care and cultivation of the collection. He has been with UC for 13 years and has more than 20 years of experience in the exhibition/museum field. During his time with UC, Cowan has produced more than 150 exhibitions as the galleries’ director, often serving as curator, exhibition designer and chief preparator. Cowan oversees the museum studies certificate program, teaches when possible, and has initiated the program’s expansion to include students desiring museum experience beyond arts institutions. Over the past three years, Cowan has worked to integrate the UC Art Collection, Galleries and Museum Studies, with expanded physical and digital content, into a cohesive unit. Aaron loves music, the outdoors, his dogs and his Pez collection.

Gina Ruffin Moore

Gina Ruffin Moore helps connect Stowe House to community

Gina Ruffin Moore serves as vice president of the nonprofit Friends of Harriet Beecher Stowe House. This group manages the historic Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Walnut Hills in relationship with the Ohio History Connection. Moore is chair of the nominating committee and enjoys connecting with people eager to get plugged into learning about the history of the city and envisioning its future. She is excited to see the history of the house uncovered through its multi-era restoration project and to see the museum’s community connections expand as the site interprets both 1840s abolitionist history and the 1940s era as the Edgemont Inn boarding house and tavern listed in the Green Book. Moore also authored a book on the history of African Americans in Cincinnati, “Cincinnati: The Black America Series,” published by Arcadia Publishing.

Gale Beckett

Gale Beckett guides CAC through an era of change

Gale Beckett has been a supporter of the Contemporary Arts Center since moving to Cincinnati in 1978 as part of her long career with Procter & Gamble. She is involved with many committees and is in her second term serving on CAC’s board of trustees. She first served on the board from 2003-2009 and returned in 2017. Now, halfway through her third year as board president, Beckett has guided the institution through pandemic recovery, the search for a new director, the beginning of a new strategic plan and more. She loves cooking and traveling, especially when the two combine and she can explore new ingredients and cuisine. She looks back with great fondness on the nearly eight years she and her husband lived and worked in China and Japan, admiring the countries’ rich histories and people. This appreciation for experiencing new things is one of the many qualities that has made her an effective leader for the CAC.

Brenda Hunda

Brenda Hunda curates Museum Center’s world-class fossil collection

Brenda Hunda is Cincinnati Museum Center’s curator of invertebrate paleontology, managing a collection of more than 1 million fossils. Among her collection is the museum’s Late Ordovician fossil collection, widely regarded as the largest and finest in the world. In fact, paleontologists and researchers from around the world travel to Cincinnati to study its Late Ordovician fossils. Hunda recently led the curation of a new permanent gallery at CMC showcasing the museum’s incredible Paleozoic fossil collection. She has been at the forefront of the gallery’s development, which will be a prehistoric point of pride for Cincinnati and an awe-inspiring experience for guests. When Hunda is not digging in the field or researching in the collections, she’s working on her second black belt and enjoying time with her family.

James Harrington

James Harrington trains staff, aids visitors at Freedom Center

James Harrington is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s manager of interpretive services. In his 17 years with the organization, Harrington has facilitated transformative experiences for school and adult groups, adding stories, anecdotes and context to the Freedom Center’s galleries. In addition to working directly with guests to answer questions and point out details in artifacts and artwork, James trains staff and volunteers. In doing so, he not only empowers staff with knowledge of the museum’s content, but on the broader historical context of the Underground Railroad, which helps enrich the visitor experience. James is an influential leader for the Freedom Center, ensuring the stories of freedom’s heroes continue to inspire action today.

Brad Hawse

Brad Hawse leads CAM’s fundraising, community building

For nearly seven years, Brad Hawse has been leading efforts to strengthen and expand donor funding to the Cincinnati Art Museum, raising significant funds and building community with supporters. His work has centered around donor efforts such as the Founders Society, exhibition and programming support and significant planned gifts to the museum. Hawse was recently promoted to lead all fundraising efforts as director of philanthropy. He’ll oversee annual fundraising, major and planned giving programs, museum membership, affiliate groups, corporate sponsorship, grant-seeking and all donor events. His passion for the museum’s mission is evident to all, but there is more to Hawse than just his work. You also can find him enjoying Cincinnati’s wealth of performing arts groups such as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Ballet and more, or find him backpacking in the wilderness of Yellowstone, Glacier or Yosemite national parks with his husband, Ryan.

Sydney Fine

Sydney Fine ignites ArtWorks’ artistic transformation

Sydney Fine is a driving force behind ArtWorks’ transformative initiatives on the organization’s leadership team. As senior director of impact, she shapes strategy, oversees public art projects and gauges their effects. Since 2018, she has led a team directing innovative programs and forging partnerships that ensure that artistic outcomes are community-driven. Through mural development and beyond, she manages ArtWorks’ projects that employ cutting-edge techniques, crafting narratives that honor Cincinnati’s rich heritage. Her passion revolves around elevating youth and communities, a commitment cultivated during her tenure with Teach for America and other youth-focused nonprofits. Fine is a board member for ish and Activities Beyond the Classroom. Living and working out of Walnut Hills, she is a fan of photography, traveling and hiking. During her university years, she captured the Michigan Wolverines’ spirit as a photographer on the field during University of Michigan football games.