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Meet Catrina Kahler, the CEO of Artlink Who is Changing the Game for Phoenix Artists

Catrina Kahler, president and CEO of Artlink since 2017, has broadened the organization’s reach to artists across Arizona and those in the performing and culinary arts.

As it marks its 35th anniversary, Artlink is celebrating a renaissance, reaffirming its mission to cement the arts’ place in the Phoenix community.

If you ask Catrina Kahler whom to credit for the success of Artlink, the nonprofit organization she has led as president and CEO since 2017, she’ll point to any number of people. She lauds her board of directors, a group of men and women representing a variety of backgrounds, from business to civic groups to the arts. She enthuses about the six full- and part-time workers who comprise her staff. “We’re a small but mighty team,” she says. And she applauds those visionary artists who banded together to form the establishment 35 years ago.

If you ask those who have worked closely with Kahler since she first began volunteering for Artlink in 2013, they will tell you the organization’s robust health and expanding reach are the direct result of her unflagging energy and dedication.

Artlink began in 1989 when a group of artists created it in the wake of the first Art Detour, a tour of open studios around downtown Phoenix. It was an all-volunteer enterprise until seven years ago, when the board decided a professional staff was needed to help it achieve its goals. Kahler, who had been a board member for several years and who had a successful career in sports and events marketing, became president and CEO. “We had a strong board, with solid leadership and a lot of passion, as well as understanding that this was something worth preserving and growing,” she says.

Kahler took the original mission of building connections to ensure that the arts would be an integral part of Phoenix’s growth and development to heart. “We needed to live up to the name, to be the link, the connector between the artists and the business and civic communities,” she says.

She has worked to bring breadth and depth to those connections, reaching out to business and  municipal leaders. The newest board member, for example, is interior designer Anita Lang, principal of IMI Designs in Scottsdale and Phoenix. “I think I can help in a very specific way, connecting artists with designers and architects,” she says. “I can help bridge the gap between artists and the design community.”

1. “Deep in the Forest” by sculptor Patricia Sannit, which was on display at the 2023 Art d’Core Gala. 2. Among the works of art featured in the 2023 Art d’Core Gala was “Matte Pink Storm” a  steel sculpture by Peter Deise.

Under Kahler’s leadership, the organization’s reach has expanded to include all of Arizona, promoting connections among its more than 2,300 registered “Articipants”—artists as well as art-supporting businesses and venues. And the very definition of art has expanded to include the performing arts and—a particular point of pride for Kahler—culinary arts. “The creative community includes so many things people don’t always think of as art,” she says. She cites local chef Stephen Jones, a board member, saying “When he cooks, there’s no doubt that he’s an artist. We want creative people to live and thrive here in Arizona.”

The group has instituted new programs, including The Artists Forward Fund (TAFF), an annual grants program open to all working artists in Arizona; ART + FORM, an arts and culture space being developed with the owners of the midcentury Park Central shopping mall; and a series of art exhibits at downtown Phoenix’s Flinn Foundation. Meanwhile, existing programs have grown exponentially. The Art Detour, for example, has evolved from a weekend of open studios to a monthlong extravaganza of events, held in venues all around the Valley. And First Fridays, launched in 1994, has grown into one of the largest monthly art walks in the U.S., drawing as many as 20,000 visitors to downtown Phoenix every month.

Artists are taking note. Sculptor Peter Deise has been involved with Artlink since the early 1990s, and he admires Kahler’s vision and energy. “The people she brought onto the board come from so many different walks of life, with a great mix of expertise,” he says. “The organization is jelling in a way that things are really happening.”

1. Dancer and choreographer Nicole Lyn Olson and self-portrait photographer Richard Pomraning performing “Destiny and Cake” at last year’s Art d’Core Gala, Artlink’s annual fundraiser. 2. “Deep in the Forest” by sculptor Patricia Sannit, which was on display at the 2023 Art d’Core Gala, featured a selection of pieces by Sannit, crafted of natural woods, clay, wax, resin and steel rods. 3. “Uncontained Harmony,” a photo paste installation by the Phoenix-based artist Danny Upshaw, was the second-place winner in the 22nd Annual Artlink Juried Exhibition, held at the FOUND:RE Phoenix hotel in 2022. 4. A mural of a young Indigenous girl by artists Thomas “Breeze” Marcus and Miles “El Mac” MacGregor, who won the commission for the piece through Artlink.

Muralist and graffiti artist Thomas “Breeze” Marcus has benefited directly through the group’s outreach to artists, taking on a commission for a mural at 111 W. Monroe St. in collaboration with Miles “El Mac” MacGregor. “By connecting artists and those seeking artists, Artlink is helping to make the arts grow in Phoenix,” he says.

Besides a supportive board, a dedicated staff and a host of volunteers, Kahler credits Valley leaders in business and government for Artlink’s growth. “The city, corporations and businesses aren’t built specifically to support arts and culture, but they have really understood the strength and vitality creative people bring,” Kahler says. “To witness that and be a part of that is a really special thing.”

Sources

Artlink, Phoenix, artlinkphx.org

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