Gahanna resident Demetries Neely has been named the new executive director of the Kings Art Complex, known for its mantra as being the "soul of the city."

Gahanna resident Demetries Neely has been named the new executive director of the Kings Art Complex, known for its mantra as being the "soul of the city."

The King Arts Complex board of trustees voted late last month to appoint Neely as its new leader.

Neely served on the board of trustees for 12 years, most recently acting as the interim director. She worked at Nationwide Insurance for 22 years prior to retiring in 2008.

"The organization had a transition, and it was a little abrupt, and we couldn't handle going outside to find someone to lead the organization," she said. "I had the most flexibility and said I would do it for six months. Now I'm still here. It's good to do something we enjoy. This is purpose work."

Neely has a bachelor's degree from Johnson C. Smith University, a master's in black studies from the School of Humanities at the Ohio State University and a law degree from the Moritz College of Law at OSU.

Her vision for the King Arts Complex is to make it completely sustainable, she said.

"We've been running like an arts institution, and that's wonderful, but we need to begin to look at it as a business," she said. "We need to look at profits and losses, look at operating dollars, and we need to establish an endowment."

Neely said the center is a "jewel" for the Columbus community, and she wants to make sure it's around for the future.

"I am very proud to serve in this role," Neely said. "We serve central Ohio and greater Columbus, and we are focused on bringing artistic excellence not just to the city, but the state and the region."

Neely said the King Arts Complex has a great reputation.

"We have a summer concert series for free, with national acts coming in," she said. "The community loves it. We get diverse music, from R&B to reggae and even country and western. We draw (thousands) of people who bring their blankets for the lawn. It's like a homecoming. People can come and reconnect with friends and friendly."

Opened in March 1987, the King Arts Complex is on the near-east side of Columbus.

Serving as a major anchor for development in the King-Lincoln District, the complex is considered an oasis for cultural and educational activities and a community facility for special events.

With the King Arts Complex named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Neely said it is humbling to work for an organization that carries on his message and his legacy.

"The King Arts Complex continues to be a beacon not only for the African-American community, but for the entire city," she said.

The King Arts Complex celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this year.

The center's next event will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 8, when it celebrates the sixth annual Legends and Legacies Awards.

This year's honorees will be eight documented Tuskegee Airmen, the first African-American military aviators in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Neely said these individuals are the heroes and pioneers of equality who have triumphed over adversity and risen above obstacles.

The eight honorees are Thomas Austin (Cleveland), Harold Brown (Hilliard), Charles Feaster (Xenia), Robert Harvey and Charles Williams (Dayton), and Paul Menefield, Donald Elder and Hilton Carter (Columbus).

For more information about the King Arts Complex and its events, call 614-645-KING (5464).