COLUMBUS (WCMH) – The Columbus Association for the Performing Arts announced Friday the passing of its president and CEO, William B. Conner Jr. after a two-year battle with cancer.
Conner died Friday morning at the age of 64 surrounded by loved ones.
The family will hold a private funeral, and details on a public memorial service will be forthcoming.
“Bill was a tireless champion for the arts, a fearless visionary, a born leader, and most importantly, a good friend. He will be immeasurably missed and mourned by the local arts and business communities both professionally and personally,” stated Richard Helmreich, chair of the CAPA Board of Trustees.
“One of Bill’s greatest talents was in assembling the best-of-the- best for the CAPA staff. That’s why the board is confident that the team Bill has put into place is more than capable of carrying on his legacy, and that CAPA will continue to be a cutting-edge, thriving arts organization that supports the Columbus arts community.”
Recently honored with a 2016 Bridge Builder Award from the Center for Healthy Families, Conner was named president and CEO of CAPA in July 2002. In his more than 14 years in that role, he pioneered the implementation of a shared service business model at CAPA, an innovative concept in the arts industry that garnered nationwide attention.
As such, CAPA provides personalized back office services to local arts organizations in areas such as marketing, publicity, ticketing, finance, human resources, IT, management, operations, and development according to each organization’s needs. As a result, several local arts organizations today employ the expertise of CAPA’s resources, allowing them to focus on the production of quality arts in Columbus.
Current organizations utilizing CAPA’s shared services include the Columbus Symphony, CATCO, Drexel Theatre, Franklin Park Conservatory, McCoy Center for the Arts, Lincoln Theatre Association, and Opera Columbus. Under Conner’s tenure, CAPA also helmed the $13.9 million renovation of the Lincoln Theatre (reopened in 2009) and $2.5 million renovation of the Drexel Theatre (reopened in 2016), resulting in the preservation of two historic icons that would have otherwise vanished from Columbus’ landscape.
Today, both theatres are thriving and serving as true community centerpieces. Similarly, CAPA also purchased the historic Central Presbyterian Church under Conner’s watch to preserve and ultimately renovate the downtown landmark. After being approached by the City in 2009, Conner also took on production of Festival Latino. Previously presented by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, the Festival was in danger of discontinuation due to City budget cuts.
Today, the CAPA-produced Festival Latino has become the largest Latin event in Ohio, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016. Conner was also instrumental in the production arm of CAPA, partnering with some of the world’s most prestigious theatre houses and directors to tour a number of plays internationally.
This made it possible for Columbus audiences to experience some of the most groundbreaking and once-in-a-lifetime theatre productions in the industry, including director Tim Supple’s allIndian version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2008), the Royal Shakespeare Company’s all-black, present-day version of Julius Caesar (2013), and most recently, The Abbey Theatre’s production of The Plough and the Stars, marking the 100th anniversary of Ireland’s Easter Rising.
Conner was a founding member of the Columbus Cultural Leadership Consortium (CCLC), an innovative collaboration of Columbus arts organizations formed in 2006, serving as its first treasurer.
He also expanded CAPA’s agreement with Broadway Across America in 2009, making CAPA a partner in all Broadway in Columbus presentations. Prior to his career with CAPA, Conner served as president of Clear Channel Entertainment (Boston), senior vice president of marketing, sales, and touring for Livent, Inc. (Toronto), president and CEO of the Ordway Music Theatre (St. Paul), executive director of the Children’s Theatre Company (Minneapolis), producer and co-founder of The Chicago International Theatre Festival, managing director of the Court Theatre (Chicago), managing director of the St. Nicholas Theatre Company (Chicago), and as a field representative for Actors’ Equity Association’s Midwest Region (Chicago).
He is survived by his wife Karen and their two adult children, Emily and Ben.