Outwardly, it’s the most invisible management transition in memory.

And that’s precisely how Mary McCullough-Hudson engineered it. Officially, McCullough-Hudson, CEO of ArtsWave, will be around until Aug. 31.

But on June 20, she handed over most of her responsibilities to President and COO Alecia Kintner, who will become president and CEO on Sept. 1.

There was no crisis or power struggle.

“It was time,” says McCullough-Hudson, who went to work at ArtsWave—then the Fine Arts Fund—in 1979, soon after completing a master’s degree in voice from UC’s College-Conservatory of Music.

Initially, her role was modest, but as an administrative assistant to Paul Sittenfeld, then the president of the Cincinnati Institute of Fine Arts—the FAF—McCullough-Hudson found herself in the thick of every major decision the institution was making. Within five years, she was running the annual community-wide fundraising campaign. And in 1994, she stepped into her current position.

She’s 62 now, and she’s ready for a break.

“I’ve been immersed in this conversation for a very long time,” says McCullough-Hudson. “My immediate goal is to get some distance and perspective on everything I’ve been working on for so many years. And,” she adds, almost as an afterthought, “take some time away.”

And for Kintner? She’s just 45 and has plenty of career in front of her. But when she joined ArtsWave’s staff full time in January 2013, she arrived with an abundance of experience. Most recently, she’d spent 10 years as the deputy director of the Greater Hartford Arts Council (GHAC), a hybrid united arts fund and local arts council.

She had a slew of awards to her name. But it was her mastery of running a community-wide campaign similar to ArtsWave’s that caught McCullough-Hudson’s attention. During Kintner’s time at the GHAC, workplace giving—the centerpiece of ArtsWave campaigns—grew from $500,000 to $1.2 million.

On paper, the change in leaders looks seamless.

But for many, the question remains: Will ArtsWave morph into a different institution in the post-MMH era?

“I strongly doubt it,” says a current administrator at one of Greater Cincinnati’s major arts organizations. Like nearly every local arts administrator contacted for this story, this high-ranking manager insisted on remaining anonymous.

“It’s not that I worry about a backlash from ArtsWave. It’s not that kind of organization. But ArtsWave’s board members and volunteers wield so much influence in the community, you don’t want to risk someone getting offended. You know how the world is these days—one misunderstanding and the sky comes crashing down.”

Whether or not there will be changes under Kintner, ArtsWave is already in the midst of a philosophical and funding shift that has given the local arts community a nudge many find uncomfortable.

On Sept. 22, 2010, the Fine Arts Fund surprised most Greater Cincinnatians with the announcement that it would now be known as ArtsWave. A “relaunch” they called it. The change of name proved controversial. But it was far from the most significant change introduced that day.

According to its new mission statement in 2010, ArtsWave would be “an organization dedicated to connecting people through the arts, advancing the vibrancy of our community with the arts, and supporting the arts and culture in greater Cincinnati.”

So far, so good. ArtsWave would not abandon the traditional role of raising money to support arts in the region. The annual campaign would continue.

But it also announced an intention to broaden its range of giving to include a more diverse pool of recipients. Even that wasn’t a new concept. But then came this:

“Over the next several years, ArtsWave will make changes in its grants evaluation process, with increasing priority given to initiatives with the greatest impact on people and neighborhoods in Cincinnati and across the region. Using impact as the primary metric for funding is a direct result of the research conducted by the Fine Arts Fund.”

For the big organizations, Fine Arts Fund grants were considered a given. Obviously you had to do good work. But the idea that community impact might now be the primary consideration in ArtsWave funding levels seemed to take some groups by surprise.

“It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone,” says a former fundraiser at a major institution. “Corporations were being forced to make tougher decisions about where they put their money. They were being asked to support efforts for cleaner water and for education for at-risk children and all sorts of social issues. I think ArtsWave saw this coming and knew they needed to shift the approach to grant-making.”

As much as it was a necessary change, it was also a courageous one, according to Margy Waller, formerly FAF/ArtsWave’s vice president of communications and research and now a senior fellow with the Topos Partnership.

“Mary was at a point in her career where she could have retired and avoided going through all of this transformation,” says Waller. “With her career, she would still have been considered a national success. It was—and still is—the biggest campaign out there. But her concern was that if we don’t make changes now, the organization might not exist in another 10 or 20 years. It was an incredibly gutsy and visionary thing to do.”

It’s hard to point at events or performances and say they wouldn’t have happened without ArtsWave’s encouragement. But the past three or four years have seen a flurry of far-reaching arts and culture projects that have had enormous impacts on the community, everything from the Cincinnati Ballet’s collaborations with Peter Frampton and Over the Rhine to the Taft Museum’s “Art For All” program, that brought high-quality reproductions to 80 locations around the area. And then there was last summer’s LumenoCity, presented by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

“It’s a tricky balancing act,” says Victoria Morgan, the artistic director and CEO of the Cincinnati Ballet. “But I do know that we don’t have a future unless we start embracing a broader and more diverse audience. I feel like we’ve already made a lot of progress. But if we don’t go even farther with it, we—all of us in the arts—risk losing our art forms. I know that, at the Cincinnati Ballet, we are so much more adventurous then we used to be.”

But there is no surefire formula for any of this, says Kintner. For most arts groups, this is new territory that they’re wading into.

“This is a work in progress,” says Kintner, adding that she is determined to give arts organizations as much help as possible as they find their way down this new path. That doesn’t necessarily mean more money. It could mean expert advice. Or encouraging more fruitful collaborations.

“We are no longer a passive organization,” says Kintner. “That ended with the change from the FAF. There is no room for entitlement. And when I say that, I include ArtsWave. The days are gone when we can make assumptions based solely on how things used to be.”