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Remembering "Culture Vulture" Jim Wilhelm

Martina Nichols Kunnecke

Jim Wilhelm passed away on Jan. 18, 2015. He ran a grassroots arts awareness organization called Louisville Culture Vulture, and was a friend and guest of Smillie's Picks with the late Thomson Smillie on Classical 90.5. The following remembrance was written by his friend Martina Nichols

Jim Wilhelm, a Canton Ohio native was a Oklahoma University graduate. There he was invited to teach after obtaining his Master's degree in music. He loved teaching but left to become a part of the New York City Opera company--where he played principal roles in many major productions that included some of the biggest names in Opera--including Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland and more. From there he opted for the financial security of the corporate world developing skills in market research in New York and ultimately working in Louisville at Brown Williamson and Horizon Research International. Professionally, he made bold career changes from academe to performing arts to corporate research; but performing arts--particularly opera--remained his major passion and lifelong crusade. Throughout his adult life, he playing pied piper, leading the novice and seasoned to frequent theaters more often. He also mentored and championed a diverse range of young artists to take their place on the professional stage.

After retirement from market research, he started "the Louisville Culture Vultures". What began as a small, eclectic group enjoying performances in Louisville but as far away as Chicago or Sante Fe, expanded to include an electronic newsletter informing the entire community of Louisville expansive cultural offerings. He had embarked upon this enterprise full steam when he met Thomson Smillie and his wife Marylyn Meredith, who not only joined his ever-growing merry band of 'culture vultures', but the ongoing debate : How do we open the theater doors to a broader, more diverse audience. In Smillie, Jim found another kindred spirit believing making the arts more accessible to everyone would enrich the individual and make the world a better place.

Though heart-breaking to all who knew them, the loss of these two men, exactly a year apart to the day, has galvanized what Marilyn has called the "motley crew" known as Louisville Culture Vultures. For now, they are planning a celebration of his life to occur in a few week. But they will also work together to ensure Jim's brainchild and legacy go forward. Those interested in what will happen next should consult the 'vulture' website or its Facebook page.

Editor's note: Below is an excerpt from "Smillie's Picks," Thomson Smillie's arts segment that aired on Classical 90.5, featuring Jim Wilhelm and Smillie discussing the Met HD broadcasts as "the people's opera."
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Daniel Gilliam is Program Director for LPM Classical. Email Daniel at dgilliam@lpm.org.