CAPA President Bill Conner Dies After Battle With Cancer

Oct 28, 2016

William B. Conner, Jr., the president and CEO of the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts as well as a leading figure in the Columbus arts community, passed away Friday after a two-year battle with cancer. He was 64.

"Bill was a tireless champion for the arts, a fearless visionary, a born leader, and most importantly, a good friend," wrote Richard Helmreich, chair of the CAPA Board of Trustees, in a statement. "He will be immeasurably missed and mourned by the local arts and business communities both professionally and personally."

Appointed as president and CEO in 2002, Conner oversaw CAPA's shared service business model and partnerships with a number of local organizations.

According to a press release from CAPA, Conner's 14 year tenure also included CAPA's multi-million dollar renovations of the Lincoln and Drexel Theatres, its purchase of the Central Presbyterian Church, and partnership with Broadway Across America.

"He, CAPA, became the umbrella organization that managed the fiscal side of the unglamorous and unsexy side of the performing arts, the work side, and did a very effective job because really they're all thriving now," said Classical 101 host Christopher Purdy in an interview with WOSU's Sam Hendren.

Chad Whittington, CAPA executive vice president and COO, will serve as interim president and CEO.

In addition to his work with CAPA, Conner helped found the Columbus Cultural Leadership Consortium, and took on production of Festival Latino, now Ohio's largest Latin event, beginning in 2009.

Details on a public memorial service are forthcoming.

WOSU's Sam Hendren talked to Christopher Purdy of Classical 101 about Conner and the legacy he leaves behind.

The below is an automated transcript. Please excuse minor typos and errors. 

Sam Hendren: CAPA announced today the passing of President and CEO William B. Conner, Jr. Did you know him personally?

Christopher Purdy: I did. I knew Bill for about 10 years. I think he's been here for 14 years. He was a very, very dynamic arts leader, a very open personality, very available, and he was a good friend to a lot of people who cared about the arts in central Ohio. And certainly to me.

Sam Hendren: What made him such a dynamic leader?

Christopher Purdy: He loved what he did. He loved the work that he did. He loved running and supporting, I think is the better word, the Columbus Symphony and CATCO, and Opera Columbus and all the presentations that CAPA did.

You know CAPA controls all the theaters downtown: The Ohio Theatre, The Palace, The Capitol, The Southern. And that means you have to fill those theaters with attractions. People want to see because CAPA is a business as well. And he was very, very astute at mixing commerce with good taste.

Sam Hendren: How do you deal with the balancing act of art and revenue? Was he astute at making things work out financially?

Christopher Purdy: Yes, he was, very much so. You know before he got here, each of our performing arts organizations - the opera, the symphony, the ballet - they all had a terrible financial reverses and a lot of bad publicity. And when CAPA and Bill got involved those things went away. He, CAPA, became the umbrella organization that managed the fiscal side of the unglamorous and unsexy side of the performing arts, the work side, and did a very effective job because really they're all thriving now. And I give him a great deal of credit for that.

Sam Hendren: Christopher, he oversaw a $14 million renovation of the Lincoln Theater, a smaller renovation of the Drexel. He was really a multitalented person wasn't he?

Christopher Purdy: He was a very busy person with a lot of energy and a lot of foresight. He knew that the Lincoln Theater would was something that neighborhood needed he knew that what was there was a magnificent building with only a little extra work would have made it viable, which it is today, it's one of our best theaters.

And you know Bill was very, very connected to this community - all of it, not just the sort of wealthier people that you might stereotypically think of. He was connected everywhere and that was his gift. He was a people person.

Sam Hendren: How do you think his legacy will be remembered? What will people remember as his contributions?

Christopher Purdy: They'll think of him with a smile when they sit in a theater and see something wonderful in Columbus, Ohio.