ArtWorks News

From Youth Apprentice to CEO, Artistic Director

The Board of Directors of ArtWorks is proud to announce Colleen Houston as CEO and Artistic Director.

“Colleen is the ideal leader for ArtWorks at this pivotal moment in the history of this organization and our community” said ArtWorks board chair Joe Muraca. “Her commitment to our mission, her resilience and creativity and her continuity as an ArtWorks leader are the perfect combination to ensure we can keep empowering our city’s youth and supporting our local artists. With Colleen, ArtWorks will continue to provide the incredibly visual cultural benefits that make this organization so important to our community.”

Colleen Houston, ArtWorks CEO & Artistic Diretor

Colleen Houston appointed as ArtWorks CEO & Artistic Director. Photo by Andrew Houston.

Houston has served as an ArtWorks employee for 17 years, most recently as Chief Programming Officer. During her tenure, she has led the organization’s public art and youth employment programs. In 2007, she launched ArtWorks’ award-winning mural program that since has produced 190 permanent outdoor murals in 36 Cincinnati neighborhoods and seven nearby cities. She also has led several important organizational initiatives in human resources, organizational culture, workplace safety and development.

“I believe so deeply in ArtWorks and am honored to take on this role,” Houston said. “Our mission is more important right now than it’s ever been, both to support our youth and artists and to embrace the power of public art to help keep our community confident and vibrant. I’m eager to hear from the creative community about how we can step up and do even more.”

ArtWorks creates jobs for youth, ages 14-21, with 59 percent of ArtWorks youth apprentices coming from underserved households in 2019. ArtWorks provides competitive 21st-century career-readiness skills through mentorship by professional artists.

From the ArtWorks archive: Colleen as an ArtWorks Youth Apprentice in 1997 (top row, second from the right).

In 1997, Houston was selected as an ArtWorks youth apprentice for two years. After she earned a bachelor’s in Public and Social Art at Warren Wilson College, she returned to ArtWorks during the summers as a teaching artist and lead artist, mentoring youth apprentice teams.

“Because our youth apprentices are at the heart of ArtWorks, the board of directors is thrilled to appoint an alum to lead the organization,” Muraca said. “Colleen exemplifies what is best about ArtWorks—our willingness to dream big and our belief that our city is better when everyone gets a chance.”

Houston succeeds Lauren Hannan Shafer, who was appointed CEO in 2019. Shafer will return to the ArtWorks Board and remains an active advocate for the organization.

“While in her role, Lauren realized there was a better way to structure the organization for the future using the talent within ArtWorks, and that time is now,” Muraca said. “The entire board of directors thanks Lauren for her brave leadership in empowering a long-term staff member to take the helm of the organization.”

Tamara Harkavy, ArtWorks founder and outgoing artistic director, is stepping away from her role as artistic director in support of this management succession and to ensure a smooth, seamless transition to the future.

“The board of directors is so grateful to Tamara and her vision,” Muraca said. “Because of her leadership, ArtWorks has been able to employ more than 3,600 youth and 3,200 creative professionals since our start in 1996. Her work has directly contributed to the region’s global reputation as an arts destination. From the Big Pig Gig in 2000 to BLINK in 2017 and 2019, Tamara has brought significant and incalculable economic impact to our region and beyond.”

Learn more about ArtWorks Team Members

In 2019, ArtWorks employed 136 youth apprentices and 26 teaching artists who completed 23 public art projects, including large-scale murals, Hero Design Company capes for children in crisis, and community engagements sessions. For BLINK® 2019, ArtWorks produced the Future City Spectacular Parade with 3,400 parade participants, 45 of the event’s interactive installations and employed youth apprentices to create 35 BLINK costumes and puppets.

About ArtWorks

ArtWorks is an award-winning Greater Cincinnati nonprofit that transforms people and places through investments in creativity. The organization creates jobs for youth, ages 14-21 with the majority from underserved households, providing competitive 21st-century career-readiness skills through mentorship by professional artists. Since 1996, ArtWorks has employed more than 3,600 youth and 3,200 creative professionals, and the organization has completed more than 12,500 public and private art projects that include 190 permanent outdoor murals, contributing to the region’s global reputation as an arts destination. ​Learn more at