Dr. Michael Coyan, Executive Director – Harmon Museum & Warren County Historical Society
On this episode, Rodney talks with Dr. Michael Coyan of the Harmon Museum about the importance of art in our lives and how a scheduling conflict led to a very special encounter with Stephen Sondheim.
[00:00:00] Hello everybody. Welcome to Rodney Veal’s Inspired By podcast. This is Rodney Veal. Happy new year. I’m super excited because I’m going to have a conversation with Dr.
Rodney Veal: Michael Cohen, who is the executive director of the Harmon Museum in Lebanon, Ohio. And I am super excited about that because every time we get together and we’ve had a conversation in the last couple of years, it has been nothing but a joy and a delight. [00:01:00] And I learn and I’m inspired and I laugh. The, and I, I’m just going, wow, what an amazing experience in life.
This man has led and you’ll get to know him and you’ll get to know the harmony museum. You get to realize there’s some cool people out here making stuff happen. So Michael, welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Michael Coyan: Well, thank you and happy new year.
Rodney Veal: Happy new year to you as well. So I, you know, one of the things it’s a full disclosure folks, you know.
Mike, I serve on the advisory committee to to the Harman museum, but I’ve also exhibited artwork at the Harman. But I’ve just, I’ve fallen in love with the museum, but I’ve fallen in love with you because you, because you are so inspiring and just super cool and awesome. So. I get to get to, I get to kind of dig into your life and we get to share the story.
So how does, how did you, how did this journey begin to becoming an executive director [00:02:00] of a regional museum?
Dr. Michael Coyan: Looking for something to do in retirement.
Rodney Veal: Well, you know…
Dr. Michael Coyan: my life has been full of happy accidents, some plans, some not. I started volunteering here again after having volunteered here when I was in sixth and seventh grade, just because the ladies who began the museum couldn’t pick anything up. Not to say they were old, but they were in advanced years.
And when I came back I noticed the art collection. Having taught at Sinclair and Wright State and OU in Miami as a professor in various disciplines. I realized they were using the collection decoratively. They really didn’t know what they had. So I contacted two people who had inspired me from high school, my high school art teachers, who were both graduates of Cranbrook Academy of Art and Design, and had later had a studio of their [00:03:00] own.
I talked them out of retirement, and we set up an art conservation lab here. And as that progressed, then the curator retired and I was just about getting ready to retire after many years at Sinclair in the art department, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And at any rate, my mother’s health was declining as well.
So I wanted to stay close to home. The curator retired. They asked me to do that. And I wasn’t in that position, but maybe five or six months and then the director left. So they asked me. And I said, well, we’re going to change a lot. And that’s where it all started.
Rodney Veal: You started off in academia. So you, I mean, was, I mean, this wasn’t on the bingo card of life or career plans is what you’re saying. So, I mean, so you are more than more than content. To be just an academic and teach within the art form. And so I’m just kind of curious, [00:04:00] like, well, like going back, like were the arts always like a thing for you?
I mean, like, you know, were you always going to be somehow connected to art? Do you think that that was always going to be the pathway? Absolutely.
Dr. Michael Coyan: I mean, I look at my younger brother, whom I love dearly, but he’s a banker. And I think he died many years ago you know, as far as energy and interest and whatever.
He can tell you about investments and all of that, but I, I, I suffocated whenever I tried to leave the arts. I started out wanting to be a classical pianist. And then ran into this extraordinary program in our high school with those two that I mentioned, Gene and Rosemary Chute. It was an extraordinary, I mean, I don’t know how many high school students have their day begin with a two hour painting studio in any medium.
YoU know, by the time I was a junior, then I got bit by the bug [00:05:00] known as the theater. And I thought, well, I’ll go to Miami and double major, which I did. I thought, well, I can do scenic design and whatever and still do my art history. Well, I had the chair of the department, Dr. Don Rosenberg, was saying you’d make a great producer.
And then another one would say you’d make a great director. And then in the art department, Dean May was saying you’d make a great art administrator. So, I’ve tried on all of those hats. I, I left Miami wound up working at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the park in various positions. Then left there, went back and got my master’s, then went back to Cincinnati and was deputy director of the Cincinnati Commission on the Arts.
Where I worked with Irma Lazarus and those heady days when Tommy Shippers was still alive and still conducting the CSO. It was an incredibly exciting time in the 70s in [00:06:00] Cincinnati. And then I decided enough, I need money. So I went to work for a law firm. Raising funds for a nonprofit legal aid unit of this major law firm to provide.
Law services, legal services to indigent elderly. Well, I raised the money, but one day I walked by the back door of the old Schubert theater and I could smell the theater and I thought I’m dying on the vine. So I wrote a letter to OU on a doctoral program that was. Interesting. And I decided, hey, maybe I’m too old for this.
Well, one thing led to another and I wound up at OU in less than two months. So it’s, it’s been a fascinating ride. It really has. And along the way, I’ve been so lucky to meet [00:07:00] so many people who I’ve venerated. I was old enough to know them in their twilight years. People like Helen Hayes or Josh Logan.
Or Leonard Bernstein or Aaron Copeland. I mean, these are people that I would have dinner with.
Rodney Veal: okay. Yeah. I mean, cause I mean, that’s what, that’s what always fascinates me is our conversations. Like you have, like you’ve had this life. I mean, . Yeah.
Dr. Michael Coyan: I never planned it. .
Rodney Veal: You never planned it. I mean, because, you know, I, I, when I, when I, when I’m this podcast and it’s like I said, it’s, it’s really about the inspiration and I’m always curious about how people start and how things happen.
And, and almost everyone has said it’s like, there was no grand plan to do this. It was like, I’m like, but you’re really, there was no, it was like, no. No, you just went, well, I mean,
Dr. Michael Coyan: Miami, Miami asked me, Dr. Rosenberg was the [00:08:00] head of something called FedApp in New York, which was the foundation for the extension and development of the American professional theater.
I don’t even think it exists anymore, but Gerald Sheinfeld who owned the Shubert organization or ran it was there and so forth. Well, Rosenberg couldn’t go to this meeting. So he sent me. Now, I was a graduate student, right? So off I go to New York, I’m representing Miami’s theater department, and Dr.
Rosenberg. And who is there but Stephen Sondheim. And Sondheim had been working on Sunday in the Park. And at the end of the conference, which was about a three day conference, he says to me do you have a few days? We’re recasting Mandy Patankin and Bernadette Peters. Their contracts are out. Would you want to see the show and go watch the audition process?
And I thought, well, sure. And so I sat on [00:09:00] the balcony with Sondheim and a, and a art historian from Brandeis University. The first act closes with that incredible frame coming down. And Sondheim pulls on his beard and looks at me. Now, I’d already won a Tony and a Drama Desk Award and everything going. And he says, does that work for you?
And I’m like, oh my God. Sometimes he asks me if it works for
Rodney Veal: me. Does it work for you? I’m like, okay. And
Dr. Michael Coyan: then Scheinfeld leans forward. He’s sitting behind us and he says, Well, it might work for you guys, but those damn lasers cost me 400, 000 every so many weeks. And after that we corresponded. And when I was in New York, I’d see him and you know, it was, but it didn’t happen as a plan.
That’s for sure.
Rodney Veal: I mean, so the pathway, but just like Sondheim Burns, like talk to me about Bernstein, Bernstein, because he’s, he’s in the zeitgeist [00:10:00] you know, with maestro the film. And I’m like, it’s Fascinating to me, the threads, I always think about like the threads from Ohio to New York arts. Like I’ve said this many a time to, to people in events like don’t, don’t fall asleep on Southwest Ohio because they’re the, what you see in New York is.
Dr. Michael Coyan: Oh yeah, exactly. Well, c thread to Bernstein was t a week. I think he was 77 I think it was around his 77th birthday. And I was one of four people in theater, music, and art to kind of usher him around. And we had some interesting conversations. And one of them was he thought Bernstein had totally wasted his talent.
By writing for the theater. Really? He, [00:11:00] he, Oh, absolutely. The only one that was more bitter about someone’s career was Gielgud talking about what a waste Richard Burton was moving off the stage. He said, you know, Taylor just destroyed him. But anyway, Copeland it was fascinating because.
He told me so many stories about his inspirations for writing. And it’s, it’s really phenomenal. Well, I worked with him for a while, got his sort of take on what he thought about Bernstein, who’d been one of his proteges. And then not long after that, Bernstein did a residency at IU Bloomington. So a friend of mine who was a music major and I went over there and attended a seminar and then there was a party after and Lenny was there very well into his Drink and smoking.
Of course, like a blast furnace. He had a penchant for kissing [00:12:00] everybody. He didn’t care who
Rodney Veal: Based on the film, it seems to be an accurate. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I
Dr. Michael Coyan: mean it was interesting because of the two Bernstein was so theatrical and I found that Copeland was so real now you talk about an Ohio connection In 42, Copeland wrote Fanfare for the Common Man for Eugene Goossens and the CSO. He then asked the trustees at Miami University, he said, I would like to be your artist in residence, your composer in residence.
And they turned him down because of his sexuality. But I thought it was very ironic. That he came back in his 77th year, triumphant as the premier composer of American, the American idiom in classical music, [00:13:00] classical music, right? Yeah.
Rodney Veal: Yeah. So I, so going back to my history and this, this knowledge that you have, it’s like fanfare for a common man, if people have not heard that, which they should, yes, I highly recommend it.
Dr. Michael Coyan: I have it on my doorbell.
Rodney Veal: I love it. Welcome in Copeland introducing you into my home. I, I, I mean, I mean, I think about all the great, the great things that he’s composed, especially for dance as well. And so that’s my world, you know, I’m like, how do, how do you turn down Copeland as base? Well, these are different times.
I mean, now we’re in 2023, but these are different times. And I’m like, but yet again. The Connection to Ohio, the CSO is the world premiere of Fanfare for a Common Man. I mean, come on, people. Like I said, don’t fall asleep on Southwest Ohio.
Dr. Michael Coyan: And then, you know, you know, we had several artists in residence at Miami.
[00:14:00] And one of my favorites was Josh Slogan and Netta Harrigan. Now, Josh Logan wrote Mr. Roberts, he directed Camelot on Broadway and on, in the film he gave Henry Fonda his start, and Netta Harrigan, her father was the H A Harrigan, of Harrigan and Hart, the Martin and Lewis of the 1910s, 1920s. Wow.
And they both came out. She had just produced Night of a Thousand Stars on Broadway for the Actors Fund. And I don’t understand it, but the faculty down there gave her short shrift, which kind of bent her out of shape. But Josh told me some of the funniest stories about working with Charles Boyer and Tallulah Bankhead and just these nightmares of Irving Thalberg directing a scene in the desert at Palm Desert with [00:15:00] Mexicans dressed as, you Arabs on camels.
He spoke German. They didn’t. Of course, then a sandstorm came up, and the camels were in estrus. So, they were trying to mate. With the Mexicans on them and he’s screaming in German and, and the stories go on and on. I mean, it’s just phenomenal.
Rodney Veal: That’s what I, I, I’m always amazed at the people that show up like, it just blows my mind.
I mean, I, that’s what I mean. It’s like, it’s like, I’m like, Mike, Michael knows these folks he’s, he’s, he’s just name them. And then he like, and like, Whoa, like that’s a, it’s a whoa moment in many ways.
Dr. Michael Coyan: You know, the thing is, I realized early on that they didn’t want to be fawned over. And if you talk to them and treated them just like a normal person, that’s what they wanted.
And I think they appreciated [00:16:00] that. It’s a funny thing, but I tell people who don’t realize that Neil Armstrong lived here in Lebanon longer than he lived anywhere else. Right. And Jan, his first wife, was talking to me one day and she told me they She and the boys, they were quite young, came down and had lunch at the ice cream parlor and she said, no one recognized them.
So they decided to move to Lebanon and buy a farm. And I said, well, what you’re telling me is. You wanted to move to Lebanon to be ignored. And we were more than happy to accommodate you.
That’s the way I feel, you know,
Rodney Veal: well, I love, I love that because it is the fact that they are human. Yeah. They’re not superhuman in the sense of untouchable and the sense of their talent. I mean, their talent is prodigious, but they’re still human beings at one leg at a time and they have a propensity for drinking and smoking like a chimney.
I mean, it’s like, you know, and kissing everybody and kissing everybody. [00:17:00] That’s their jam. I mean, and so have you ever sat back and like really thought, like, I mean, I, I don’t, I don’t think of you as a person that was sitting, sitting goes, wow. Like, like this happened, all happened for a reason. Do you think about that?
Like, like the, all your adventures and the journey kind of led to this, like to this moment, or do you just kind of
Dr. Michael Coyan: Well, I don’t know. I think the biggest stunning moment for me was coming back on an airplane, having met the late Elizabeth II, the Queen, and been her guest at Royal Ascot. In the Royal Enclosure.
Oh, wow. And through that connection, I met a very elderly, Sir Neville Mariner, Academy of Martin and St. Martin Field.
Rodney Veal: St. Martin Field. So those who don’t know classical music, they should check it out. There’s recordings. Those are the best.
Dr. Michael Coyan: I connected with Emlyn [00:18:00] Williams son, who has now passed away. Emlyn Williams and I worked together when he was touring the country doing Dylan Thomas.
It was an hour and a half show on a bare stage with an octagonal oriental rug and one of his Chippendale dining chairs that had been Hinged so it fit into a suitcase.
I mean, you know, and to sit and watch him work. I mean, this man who toured the world as Dickens, did these one person shows, gave, along with Gielgud, Burton, his start in the theater. Connected him with a man named Richard Burton, whom Richard Jenkins took his name from. So, I mean, it was just phenomenal. But I was riding back, I was stuck in a plane at the airport in Washington.
And it was pouring down rain. And the lady [00:19:00] across the aisle, I was catching a cigarette plane back to Dayton. And the lady across the aisle was interested. And I was going, okay, yes, I was with the queen. I dined with the queen and so forth. And the woman next to me was sitting there drinking one beer after another.
And finally she turned to me and she says, how is that old queen anyway? I’m going to Oklahoma city. And I thought, Oh dear God, I’m back in the United States. But it hit me that I had been with the queen. I mean, that’s the thing that just. I was speechless for that. Just absolutely.
Rodney Veal: Oh, that would totally make me speechless.
I mean, how did this occur?
Dr. Michael Coyan: Yeah. And it was just again a serendipitous bunch of happenings that led to it.
Rodney Veal: So just because based on your interest of the fact that you have this, I mean, you have this knowledge base that a lot of [00:20:00] folks don’t, you know. I, I don’t always come across as like classical music, visual art, arts administration, theater.
I mean, these are, these are, sometimes these are considered siloed worlds. They sometimes intersect, but not really. And you kind of navigated your way through them.
Dr. Michael Coyan: And that’s why, that’s why even I remember one time when I was first hired at Sinclair, Sally Struther. Dr. Strother was the chair of the department, and she walked by my classroom one day, and the door was open, and later in the afternoon, she says, what were you teaching your students?
I said, well, why? She said well, I walked by your classroom and you were singing to them. I said, well, you can’t understand Gothic architecture unless you understand Gregorian chant.[00:21:00]
And she just kind of looked at me and said, okay, do your thing. But I always look at the connections, and I think we run amok when we separate not only the arts from each other, but completely out of the curriculum. Exactly.
Rodney Veal: I, and we, you and I have talked about this because it’s just, you can’t like, it has to be, there’s a context.
I mean, it’s like the architecture happens because of things like Gregorian chants, because you need a space for, and this has to sound a certain way. When Dan started introducing itself, then we started to build palaces called theaters. Yes. Because they were normally, they were outdoor spectacles. Right.
When they first started in rural courts and see a lot of people don’t know that as well. So, so it’s like, it’s like, you’ve got to understand that people have to understand the context. And I’m always confused by people who specialize like in the arts, especially arts administration. Like, no, no, no, you need to be a journalist.
Yeah. [00:22:00] Like generalist is not a horrible thing. And to have these different. Experiences and, and sort of connective threads and you as a, as a, as a director of a museum, especially the Harmon Museum. I feel like you need to know it all. I mean, you know, you know Lebanon history, I mean, you know Warren County history and Sure.
Then you also know all these things about conservation. And so I, I wanna go back to something you said, like the, when we talked about ear, you talked about earlier, it’s about, because you showed me the, the vault. I called the vault. Oh yes. Uhhuh. . And so this whole notion of conservation. I don’t think people really understand it.
It’s like, it’s not just a thing to put the objects in a space. They have to be maintained. And it sometimes talk about that, that sometimes things show up not in the best of conditions.
Dr. Michael Coyan: Yes, we have, you know, paintings that are delivered that, that have, it’s so incredible. They’re yellowed. And if you take them into the art [00:23:00] conservation lab and you even give them a remedial cleaning and it’s especially important when you begin to remove the varnish, literally the whole room will smell like an ashtray and you’ll be able to tell whether the person where this painting was smoked cigarettes or a pipe or a cigar.
Because that varnish releases that into the air when you remove it. And people don’t realize that. I was just talking with Julie McClellan, who’s the Lebanon Public Librarian, next door. And we were talking about the conservation of leather books. And she was worried about some that are in the possession of another entity here in the county.
And I said, yes, because unless you go ahead and treat that leather, it’s going to go to powder. And she was saying that this particular book had signatures. Of John McClain and Thomas Corwin and a whole host of others on the leather itself, on the binding. anD I said, you know, we’ve got to get ahold of it and make sure it’s conserved properly.
So, to [00:24:00] me, one of the big challenges here is to make sure that we stay up on that and not get behind the curve. Because that’s when museums really get into trouble with conservation.
Rodney Veal: I love, I love how you talked about it, because when we first met. [00:25:00] You took me on a tour and the art, you showed me the art, art, arts, conservation space.
And I just, and you know, I, it was for me, that was eye opening for me because it was like, there is an entire world that happens behind the scenes of a museum. And I always want to, and I stress the point. To, to our listeners is like, it’s a good, there’s a lot that goes into it. And so, so when you, when, so when the museum comes a knocking to support and help maintain, you’re supporting a lot of major efforts.
And, and I, and I’ve always applauded the fact that you’ve talked transparently, because it’s a part of what you do on a daily basis. It’s not, that’s, that’s to me, it’s the more interesting parts. Throw an exhibition up. That’s great. But conserving and preserving and putting things in context makes more sense to me.
Dr. Michael Coyan: Yeah. And making them valuable for all levels of [00:26:00] education. So that if you have very little, you can relate the displays, you can relate all of this and of course to different grade levels make sure that it is simple enough for a third or fourth grader to find it engaging, but deep enough that someone with a college degree can appreciate it as well.
In a different context, it’s a thing of where. At any rate, we try to impress that on funding sources, because, you know, even during the COVID business, people, the local theater just turned the lights off and walked away, they shut down. We can’t do that. All of these systems that hold the buildings at certain humidity levels and climate and whether that’s in the vault or in the collection or in the building itself, they go 24 7.
And the building has to be monitored by staff 24 7. God forbid if a pipe would [00:27:00] break or a bird would fly through a window. I mean, all of that stuff is an ongoing. And it doesn’t get any cheaper.
Rodney Veal: It truly doesn’t. And I’m glad you’re saying that because I think that’s really important to stress to people when they’re having experiences in the arts.
It’s like you see the pretty finished and in a conversations with our visual artists and and. We’ve talked to musicians and mosaic artists and we, because this is our second season. And so this is, it’s been such a fascinating thing to me is that that people have a tendency to only focus and fixate on the pretty aspects of the arts.
Like they see the presentation, they see the, the, the museum exhibition, which is. They’re beautifully curated and hung and, and it’s just, you know, a lovely, it’s a lovely experience to kind of walk into, but man, that there’s a lot conservation is real. It is, it’s so many other aspects to it that I [00:28:00] feel. I want to demystify folks on because I feel like so many times that people have a tendency to just not understand or lack awareness that this does cost a lot of money to maintain a building, even when it wasn’t being entered.
Sure. It’s like, you want this to last for generations. And so I guess there’s not a question in that, but it’s a statement of support because that’s why, that’s why I love the Harvard museum. And I love what you do because you make it real. And you make it all you’re not trying to hide the fact that we got, we got to do the things like exactly seem like not glamorous, but they serve that purpose.
Dr. Michael Coyan: That’s exactly right. And the other thing that I’m always concerned with, and that’s something that I learned early on. Is that for me, a patron who comes here has to have a good experience from the time they leave their car to when they enter the lobby and are [00:29:00] greeted to being comfortable within the collection, meeting staff with questions, if they have questions, making sure that they’re treated nicely, kindly.
And appreciatively and making sure that even the grounds and their journey back to their car are pleasant so that you have it’s to me. It’s a holistic experience. And to me that that extends to all of the arts. When I was working in the theater, I was paranoid about the quality of the lobby. What’s going on in that lobby?
Is it clean? Are we doing a proper display? Is there something we can do differently in each one of these plays that we’re doing this season to, to create interest while people are milling about before the house opens? Similarly with dance, is there something we can do, you know, to tie that a little closer?
And, you know, that’s just a holistic approach that I look at in [00:30:00] all of
Rodney Veal: this. I love that notion, the notion of holistic. And so you talk about theater and your experience with theater. I love the fact that one of the things when I first met you is like, That you had a connection to Susan Brazani and Muse Machine.
And I just was like, what? I’m like, I’m like, Michael, do you not know everybody that we all like, how do you not like, and for those who don’t know Susie, Susie is, she is, she is, I say this in the, in the most loving way possible. Yes. The true definition of a diva.
Dr. Michael Coyan: Yes. And she’s forced to be reckoned with the
Rodney Veal: force to be reckoned with.
I, and I said in a good way, like it was like, yes, you, you can’t, I mean, it’s like a force of nature and I, I talk about, cause were you connected to, to muse machine or was it just
Dr. Michael Coyan: briefly? Yeah, I came back from, from OU and I did a stint briefly with the muse machine. It didn’t really work out for me, [00:31:00] but I wound up.
Doing a little more work for a couple of other patrons there in Dayton. Mrs. Kay being one who was just a love and she knew my grandparents and my great grandparents. And actually when her husband was alive, they would go down to the family farm. Near Lidle, Ohio, and go fishing and hunting with my great grandparents.
Charles Kettering and Edward A. Deeds electrified my great grandparents farmhouse before there was electric in Lebanon or Waynesville with something called farm light. It was an experiment, and Wait,
Rodney Veal: what? Yeah,
Dr. Michael Coyan: yeah. They built literally a gas fired generator, independent, and they wired the house. So the farmhouse back that half mile lane was lit like a Christmas tree when everybody else was using kerosene lamps.
They used it as a test and then marketed farm light across the country. When it was a success, [00:32:00] but I was, I was there and I had the pleasure of working and meeting people like Jesse Phillips and Irv Nutter, Anne Green some of the movers and shakers in Dayton, and then when I relocated to Cincinnati, I was working with Mrs.
Lazarus and Mrs. Corbett Bob Allen, who was the president of the Cincinnati Art Museum, was a very dear friend, and I wound up on the Fine Arts Fund Board, which Is now arts wave for some 15 years and thoroughly enjoyed that time because it really connects you again to putting an investment in these new and emerging artists that’s so needed, whether it’s a dance group or a community theater, or whether it’s an individual who’s, who’s an incredible painter or a dancer, Or a fledgling dance company.
It’s, it’s that little bit of approval that goes so far when [00:33:00] they have enough people around them to believe in them. That’s, that’s, that fuels the creative spark to go yet another leap higher. So anyway, it just was a strange
Rodney Veal: kind of thing. So I love it. It’s just like the, when you name all these names and then people listen to this, especially for the region, it’s like we, I think, I think about it more and more at, at this, at this juncture in my life, because it’s like.
Whoa. I’m like, they’re, they’re, they’re serious. Lifelong investment in that proposition of what you, what you described has set us all up in such a fabulous way. And I think people need to understand. It’s like someone had to say, you know, The arts don’t just happen on the, on the coast in the West. They do happen in the Midwest and they happen particularly in Ohio, which is like, and I, and I’m, cause I’m [00:34:00] always going to be an advocate for that.
And so what I love is the fact that you’ve got all this, I mean, I mean. You had a life you still have a life, you just, there’s still fuel in the tank.
You’re the hardest working man I know, and I love it, and I love it. So you’re now at the Harmon, and I think it’s, I, we are now officially calling it just the Harmon Museum.
Dr. Michael Coyan: Right. Harmon Museum of Art, History, and Culture.
Rodney Veal: I love that. Oh yes. Let’s see. This is, so you’re, you’re here at the Harvard museum.
What can you tell our audience about what they’re, and I, I I’ll chime in, but what they’re missing out on by not coming down to the Harvard museum.
Dr. Michael Coyan: Well, on the 12th of January, we are loading in, and we are the first museum outside of Washington, D. C. to host the American Revolution Experience, which is a many [00:35:00] thousands of dollars touring exhibit of the exhibit that’s in Constitution Hall in Washington, sponsored by the American Battlefield Trust.
And the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. And we’re the first to host it. And it loads in on the 12th and it opens on the 16th. And it’s going to be just a humdinger of an exhibit. We’re so proud to have it. We’re the only one in Ohio. It leaves here. There’s one other touring exhibit that will wind up in Texas.
And then they’re going to start threading them throughout the United States. But that’s going to be happening. We have an incredibly expanded As a matter of fact, yesterday I just unpacked a beautiful picture. It’s about That big, it’s enormous. By the late Clementine Hunter, who is a noted ceramicist and painter.
She passed away about a decade ago, and this vase came [00:36:00] from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art. And as a matter of fact just this last year, we’ve received about 1. 1 million in folk art. We even have what they call naive art from Britain that is in King Charles’s collection by gentlemen. in Cornwall.
That was just received about four weeks ago. And then in April we’ll be getting around 400, 000 in Hopewell pottery that’s being transferred from the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati by a private owner here permanently, as we partner, of course, with the city of Lebanon and the Golden Lamb and Fort Ancient, with its now designation as a World Heritage Site.
The other thing that the city’s asked the Harmon to do, is on June the 1st, we’re going to put together a Lebanon Festival of the Arts. [00:37:00] We haven’t had an arts festival for probably 20 years. So we’re going to start small, but my master plan is eventually to bring the CSO back here. Because when I was young in the seventies, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra came here six times a year.
And they played to sell out crowds in the high school auditorium and on the lawn at Berry. So, you know, it’s just, let’s bring the arts back to where they ought to be here between Dayton and Cincinnati.
Rodney Veal: And, and, and I’m so glad you said it because I think, like I said, it goes back to my first, never fall asleep on Southwest Ohio and don’t fall asleep on Lebanon, Ohio.
I mean, I really, because I think it’s your, you’re a Pied Piper for making this, this, this change happen and an infusing, like, like why, like what, what, what would you say to other cities and Lebanon’s the city communities. of [00:38:00] similar size. Like what would you say to them? What would be your advice to them about bringing art and culture into the communities and why it’s
Dr. Michael Coyan: important?
It’s an intangible. It is something that so enriches the experience of a community. And it is a showcase for the diversity. of all of these threads that make up our country. The threads, all the cultural threads, and the ethnic threads, and the socioeconomic threads. The arts speak universally. I watched something the other night, David Tennant was talking about his work in Glasgow, setting up a new Shakespeare company, and, and making sure that young people are exposed.
To Shakespeare again and in a non threatening way. And I understand that. And I think that oftentimes people have this fear of the art. Oh, I have to [00:39:00] dress up. I have to do this. I have to do that. And I think we make it accessible and we win them. anD once they have that positive and good experience, that’s why I’m often frustrated because we have people who come in the museum and go, Well, I’ve, I’ve lived here for 30 some years in Springboro or Waynesville or Mason, and I didn’t know you existed.
And I said, yes, we’ve been here for 84 years. And the incredible thing is that once they visit the museum, 90 percent of them become members. Wow. But it’s, it’s making sure they feel comfortable and welcome here, and welcome at all of the events that we produce. And I think that’s perhaps the biggest goal for any community.
Make sure the arts are not exclusive, but are accessible to all. And make sure, I mean, the museum does not have a bank. Like [00:40:00] the Cincinnati Art Museum or Dayton, who’s giving us a pile of money to do Saturdays free. And it breaks my heart to see a young mother with three children or four children, even though our rates are very low, come in and look at that, and I know what’s going through her head.
It’s either go through the museum or buy lunch for my kids. And so what we’ve done is instituted every quarter, and the museum’s eating the cost, of a day that’s free to the public. And to me, it’s well worth that. I wish we had somebody to underwrite that. I’m kind of frustrated that we don’t, but the fact of the matter is it warmed my heart to see how many people otherwise who would have walked down the history walk and back into town who came in and thoroughly enjoyed the museum.
And played with the dog.
Rodney Veal: And he has a fabulous dog people. I love your dog. And, and, but I think that’s so [00:41:00] important and, and I’m glad you said that about like making it accessible because so far too often, I, and I’m having conversations with other groups about accessibility and it’s like, and I’m like, it’s like, no, no, no.
You’re the prime example. I use you as an example of like, this is how Michael makes it accessible. And, and maybe you should follow. This pathway, which is one thing it’s like, I, I think that there’s been this mistaken belief that it is, we’re still in the gilded age and and we’re not. So we truly are not.
And, and I, I just feel like that that’s so important to kind of stress like accessibility does not mean bringing it down, it means. Opening up exactly. That’s a, that’s a different concept. That’s a very
Dr. Michael Coyan: different thing. Yes.
Rodney Veal: Open it up folks. And you open it up. I love it. I, I, I remember because this is, [00:42:00] I’ve given you a story because I saw my parents on a new year’s day and I, I just think about how gracious you were at the museum with my family when I came to see the exhibit and they still talk about it.
They still talk about like, that was such a cool experience because he says he, he, he just made us feel welcomed. I was like. That’s what it’s all about, right? You’d like making it welcome people in and it’s like, you know, I, and I just thought that that was really, really special. I wanted to let you know that.
Dr. Michael Coyan: So, well, thank you. I appreciate that because, you know, my feeling is this is, this is your museum. And I mean that in capital letters and, and if an arts organization, takes the attitude that this is your community theater. This is your dance program. This is your, there’s a bit of ownership and that’s what’s important for the [00:43:00] survival of any of the arts is you have to have that sense of ownership and pride.
In those institutions, in your arts institutions within your community. And you can only do that by, you know, extending that hand and making people feel welcome and giving them that good experience.
Rodney Veal: And, and I, I love that. That’s such a, that’s a mantra that needs to be heard to the cheap seats. And I hope everyone listens to the podcast to hear that.
So this is my question is you talk, I talked, we talked about community, but now I want to talk about someone who wants to follow in your footsteps. What would, what would be your, you’ve had these great grand experiences and, and I love them and I, that’s what I love about our conversations. What would you, what would your advice be to someone who would love to do what you do?
What would you tell them?
Dr. Michael Coyan: I would tell them to always remember to play the strengths. [00:44:00] If it’s a museum, play the strengths of your collection. Look at what you have. Also look at your staff and let the staff, don’t put them under your thumb, let them be as creative as they are. When I took over, I looked at the resumes of people and then some we’ve hired since.
And I’ve said, you know, these people are incredibly gifted in their own right. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. They have their own ideas. Why not let them loose? Try it. Don’t be afraid of that. Don’t be afraid of trying something totally new. I mean, my staff had to talk me out of, you know, Lebanon has the horse parade every year, and I was looking into buying the proverbial leg lamp to put in every window in the Harman here on Broadway.
But, because I thought we’d make national news with a, you know, two story building with eight windows with leg lamps in them, a lot less stodgy, but they talked me out of that. [00:45:00] But I think that that’s important. Is that and show appreciation to those who volunteer. That’s incredibly important. Last year, we had 4, 500 and some odd volunteer hours put in.
This year, Lisa just did the totals. I think we’re down a little bit. We’re almost at 3, 900 hours this year, or for 2023. And it’s phenomenal. That’s almost 16 hours a day for every day that we are open. Wow. And so I’m thinking if you, if you want to look at museum, look interdisciplinary, make sure you play the strengths of your collection, appreciate your staff and let them loose to be creative people as they are, and show that appreciation to your volunteers.
And that’s, that’s, that’s very simple. [00:46:00]
Rodney Veal: I, it’s simple, but yet so many people don’t follow that and that’s, and that’s, and that’s a shame and a detriment because the thing is, like I said, the richness of the arts and culture tapestry is what is, is what’s keeping, keeping me going. And so, and, and discovery.
And that’s why I’m like. Like having this conversation with you so that people understand you gotta go to the Hermann museum people You and I’ve had people say like like that was an unexpected surprise Experience and they and they were and they’re gonna come back and so good That’s the kind of thing you, I, I want to foster and encourage, but I think a lot of it in part has to do with you and your openness to bringing folks in and,
Dr. Michael Coyan: and I appreciate that.
I mean, we still have those calls like I had three days ago where the gentleman was insisting, well, there’s nothing next to the library. And I said, well, and I’m sitting in 70, 000 square feet of [00:47:00] nothing.
Rodney Veal: Like, you didn’t use any right pat stealth technology. No, no buildings there. People, dude, the building is there, which is another thing we’re known for in Southwest Ohio is our stealth air force technology.
Oh, we don’t incorporate it into our daily practice. No, but I, but I just love the fact that you’ve created this great, lovely, warm, open, rich collection, and it’s a rich collection people of art, but I think you lead it in such a, such a human positive. Awesome way that I just, I’m just fanboying out. Sorry, Michael, I’m fanboying out.
And I just, I just have a lot of, just, just, there’s a, there’s a warm spot in my heart for you.
Dr. Michael Coyan: And I certainly appreciate all you’ve done [00:48:00] for the arts in Ohio. Yeah, especially Southwestern Ohio I, I watched the art show and follow what you’re doing all the time. And that in itself is amazing. And I love the fact that, you know, you’re showcasing those people that are often mentioned in passing, and you’re actually spending the time with them and showcasing that hard slog it is in every discipline.
yoU know, I, I came from the era when, Oh, you’re going to major in the arts. Well, you’re going to be poor and you’re going to live in an attic and that kind of thing. And no, I was taught early on by some very wise people, both in high school and, and professors, mentors that if you’re careful and you believe in yourself and you know what you’re doing, apply.
Yourself and you’ll succeed. And it may surprise you
Rodney Veal: and yes, and it will. And so [00:49:00] on that note, Michael, thank you for this conversation.
Dr. Michael Coyan: Well, thank you very much.