by Laura A. Hobson
“I am going to be an art historian,” announced Cate Yellig, now 33, to her father Chuck when she was 20. Her dad told her to find a career that paid the bills. A native Cincinnatian, Yellig eventually wound up as art director of the Covington Arts Center.
The Kentucky Arts Council named Covington as an arts district with a state-level certification in 2005-2006. The Covington Arts Center serves many regional artists by holding several juried exhibits each year. The district also includes the Licking River Greenway, floodwall murals by Robert Dafford portraying the history of Covington, and Mainstrasse Village. While city taxes support the center, Yellig noted the sale of center art work with a 15% commission has recently increased. “This makes us less dependent on taxes,” she said.
With over one year under her belt, Yellig has broadened her horizons at the center by working with a steering committee of arts and cultural representatives from Northern Kentucky, including cornerstone organizations such as The Carnegie, the Behringer Crawford Museum and the Baker Hunt Arts and Cultural Center. She focused quickly on the gallery as a visual presence, the curatorial committee which juries the shows and the steering committee. Learning the dynamics of the community was paramount to Yellig. The center also provides a conference room and an educational facility as a public resource
An independent jury committee decides seven to eight exhibits that take place during the year at the center. Committee members take many factors into account, i.e., crafting curatorial concepts, developing cohesive exhibitions, coordinating artists and their artwork and installation. Although shows may vary in concept, execution and style, they reflect the talent found among regional living artists. For six weeks, the center opens its doors with 5,000 square feet to display works of art. Most recently at the center, aeqai editor Daniel Brown curated a show entitled The Definitive Contemporary Landscape featuring work by 29 artists.
With 44,000 people in Covington, the arts organizations attract approximately 2.1 million people annually and contribute $52 million yearly to the city. Yellig wants to bring more regional residents to the center in an effort to make the arts important and appreciated in the community. Eventually, she would like to see an ordinance requiring 1% of the city’s new development be allocated for public art. As a result, she often attends city hall’s meetings to be sure the voice of the arts is heard.
Another project of Covington Arts is CoSign, created by a partnership among the Haile/US Bank Foundation, Little Things Lab and the American Sign Museum to provide a packaged process in which Greater Cincinnati-based visual artists design unique signs for businesses along Covington’s Madison Avenue corridor. In addition, there is an email list of 10,000 people, a website calendar and an email newsletter.
With a cultural master calendar that Covington Arts issues, Yellig lists over 200 events in the city each year. Also, Yellig partners with “myNKY,” which is Covington’s version of Agenda 360, a regional action plan designed to transform Cincinnati into a leading metropolitan region. Yellig noted that 2014 is an election year for Covington. “We need leaders who see arts as important,” she said.
One by-product of Yellig’s involvement with Covington Arts is that she met her future husband Jay Becker, who owns BLDG, a building design and branding firm in Northern Kentucky, at a brain storming session. “He asked me out during a meeting,” Yellig recalled. “I said no, but later reconsidered.” The rest is history. Yellig will marry Becker on July 19, 2014.
Begun in 2007, Covington Arts was a collaboration between the city of Covington and MKSK, an urban design planning firm, aided by a grant of $450,000 from the Kentucky General Assembly to rehab the building at 27 W. Seventh St. and create a public arts venue for the community, called the Artisans Enterprise Center. In 2009, the city partnered with a variety of groups and individuals to rebrand the center as Covington Arts.
Although Yellig graduated from Ohio University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in international studies, she spent the summer and fall of 2001 studying Renaissance art and architecture in Florence, Italy with a semester abroad program through Florida State University. Her interest in art increased to the point where she received a master’s degree in art history from the UC’s DAAP in 2006.
Fast forward to an internship and later a gallery director post with local dealers Phyllis Weston and Annie Bolling and a year in the registration and photographic departments of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Yellig developed a passion for the arts and knew she would make a career in the field.
She eventually opened PAC (Weston, Bolling, Yellig) Gallery in East Walnut Hills after serving as an adjunct professor at Antonelli College facilitating educational courses in art history and personal development from 2009 to 2012.
By December 2012, Natalie Bowers, art director of Covington Arts, called her and asked if she would be interested in the job. Yellig jumped at the chance and has been busy with the organization ever since. With an appointment by the city of Covington, Yellig works directly for the city under the umbrella of the Economic Development Division. Soon after she started, she felt welcomed and supported by the arts community. “This is different than being a gallery director,” she commented.
In the future, Yellig looks to see arts at a level of importance in revitalization. Coming up in 2015 is Covington’s bicentennial, a year in which planners hope to host 100,000 people. Covington Arts Center will create a public art component of that celebration bringing the community together.