Cincinnati Country Day School welcomes the third class of inductees into the school’s Arts Hall of Fame: Aaron Dessner `94, Bryce Dessner `94, Ashley Kahn `78, Barbara Kellar, and Kim Kern `87.
“Today’s honorees have excelled in a wide range of artistic endeavors, including music, theater, TV, and literary works,” said Rob Zimmerman `98, head of school. “Their accomplishments have won worldwide accolades, including multiple Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, a MacDowell Medal, and recognition of one honoree’s organization as Theater Company of the Decade. Three of our honorees have even been awarded a key to the city. Make no mistake; each of these five honorees is an innovator of the highest order, and their artistic voices are as inimitable as they are inspiring. But each member of this year’s class also reminds us of the power of art not just to create but to reinvent, to change minds about what we think we know, to make us look at the world in entirely new ways.”
Barbara Kellar has been helping the Cincinnati community see the arts world differently for decades. Introduced by Buck Niehoff `65, she is a former Cincinnati Country Day School (CCDS) teacher and an Emmy-winning champion of the arts in Cincinnati. She has long featured the movers and shakers of the Cincinnati arts scene on her TV show, SHOWCASE with Barbara Kellar, and has worked tirelessly to promote the arts in Cincinnati and at Country Day. She reflected on the culture of art appreciation at Country Day and her experiences as a teacher.
“Those five years I spent at Country Day were golden years because I loved the kids, I loved the parents, and everyone was so supportive. And I got the feeling that the love I had for them was returned, and it was returned in many, many ways but a love for the arts was a big part of it,” said Kellar. “And we didn't say ‘We have to do this or that for the arts,’ it was just part of our being as was nurturing the kids and praising them for the wonderful things they did. I'm so proud that Country Day has continued this tradition.”
Ashley Kahn `78, who is a faculty member at New York University and a Grammy-winning writer, music critic, and music historian, joined virtually from his home in New York and spoke with gratitude about the impact that Country Day had on his career path.
"Thank you to Country Day for the freedom and the power to be curious and find ways to express it… and the freedom and power to create…and the freedom and power to make mistakes,” said Kahn. “The extremely non-linear path I pursued professionally would not have even begun to be possible without Country Day. Thank you, Country Day, for pointing me in the right direction and for the happiness of belonging to a community and serving a purpose.”
In a pre-recorded interview, Bryce Dessner `94, a guitarist, composer, producer, curator of music festivals, and a founding member of the Grammy-winning band The National, also spoke about the concept of service, gratitude, and joy when asked what advice he had for the next generation of artists.
“For those of you who are making art…stay connected to the joy of doing it,” said Dessner. “No matter how successful or famous or how hard it gets, it's that spark that will always remain the only reason to do it. And to realize how lucky you are to be at a place like Cincinnati Country Day, with such amazing teachers and resources, and to be in this beautiful place. And to do your best to honor that and put yourself at the service of others. Take that gift forward and think about what you can do for the world and for other people.”
And when it comes to serving the community, Kim Kern `87, who has overseen the growth and expansion of The Children’s Theater of Cincinnati (TCT) into a top-ranked and award-winning theater and academy, has served the Greater Cincinnati community since 2013 in her role as managing director and CEO of TCT. Her colleague and the theater’s artistic director, Roderick Justice, described her as “the maestro of Children's Theater and now a shining star in the Cincinnati Country Day School Arts Hall of Fame.”
“Kim doesn't just lead the way,” said Justice. “She encourages her team to dance the way, to sing the way, sometimes to puppeteer the way. And Kim leads with the grace of a conductor of a symphony."
Kern credits Country Day with her ability to lead with such impact.
“It is not what I learned at Country Day that has influenced me so greatly, it's how I learned. The world is abuzz these days with the talk of and focus on 21st-century learning skills…those are all things that Country Day was well ahead of the curve on,” explained Kern. “Those are all things that were very much instilled in me that enabled me to be successful no matter what path I took. The other thing that Country Day taught me was not just how to succeed but how to succeed gracefully and with humility and, maybe more importantly, how to fail gracefully."
As one of the newest inductees into the Arts Hall of Fame, Aaron Dessner `94, who is a guitarist, keyboardist, songwriter, producer, and curator of music festivals and is best known as a founding member of the Grammy-winning band The National, as the co-founder of the indie rock duo The Big Red Machine, and for his Grammy-winning collaboration with Taylor Swift, also had recommendations for those who might aspire to achieve some of the success he has over the past 25 years. “Have faith, be collaborative, and find community. Because when you look back, that's what's meaningful: friendship and memories.”
Country Day’s Arts Hall of Fame, which was founded in 2021, celebrates the school’s strong and vibrant tradition in the arts. Former students and community members are recognized for their contributions to the fine, musical, performing, and literary arts at CCDS and beyond. This year’s inductees joined the seven existing members of the school’s Arts Hall of Fame.
Zimmerman left the inductees and their guests with some closing thoughts about the importance of community, support for the arts, and art in today’s world.
“We need art, we need artists, and we need art education now more than ever. That’s one reason why it’s so meaningful for us to gather and celebrate the artists in our midst. Perhaps these stories of Country Day arts legends will not simply reaffirm your belief in the value of a Country Day education; perhaps they will reaffirm your belief in art as the source of hope in this troubled world.”