Briefing Room


Alumna leads arts organization, finds ‘purpose work’

May 2, 2013 | Alumni

Demetries Jo Neely ’84 has been involved in the arts her entire life. Now, after spending 22 years at Nationwide Insurance, Neely is finding ways to use her business experience and law education to get creative.

After retiring from Nationwide Insurance in 2008, Neely accepted the position of executive director at the King Arts Complex in Columbus, which focuses on performing and visual arts and introducing the arts to area youth.

The 25-year-old organization was established to carry on the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. by promoting, preserving, and fostering the artistic and cultural contributions of African Americans, according to its website. The King Arts Complex produces musicals, theatrical performances, and art shows as part of its youth education program.

“It was the way I grew up,” said Neely, who was involved in school plays and learned to play piano during elementary school. Her other family members were artists and also involved in theater. “To be involved in the arts at a different point in my life is a great thing.”

Neely’s involvement with the King Arts Complex began during her time working for Nationwide Insurance. She was asked to serve on the organization’s board as part of Nationwide’s community outreach.

“I previously was affiliated with the organization from being a patron. It’s a jewel in the community. It has great public value,” she said.

Her current role at the King Arts Complex requires a certain amount of creativity balanced with good business practices. It can be a challenge at times.

“In these economic times, the nonprofit world is challenging. Yet it’s a labor of love, and that makes it all worthwhile,” she said. “This is the best role ever because it’s not a job. It’s purpose work, and I am humbled by the fact that I have the pleasure of continuing to carry out Dr. King’s mission.”

Neely’s career with Nationwide Insurance and her time at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law have given her the tools to successfully run the King Arts Complex like the business it is and the creative outlet it should be.

“This is an arts institution and in 2013 you can’t run it like an arts institution, you have to run it like a business,” she said. “The rigor that you learn in law school … you can apply it here.”

Law school prepared Neely for the “daily grind” of being a career-woman. The heavy workload, late nights at the library, and carving out one’s career path have all shaped Neely into the leader that she became at Nationwide Insurance as an assistant vice-president in the financial services sector.

“When you get to your career, you do the best you can to ascend to where you want,” she said. “That was emotionally and physiologically tough because it was a grind.”

After taking a few interesting courses in insurance law, Neely knew that the insurance field would be the right fit for her. “I had an engaged and thought-provoking insurance professor, and the subject matter was interesting to me,” she said.

Now that she’s put her background as a lawyer to use in the arts field, Neely looks at her law school degree as a liberal arts education. She explained that a law degree teaches students to “play by the rules” and take problem-solving skills to a variety of industries.

“Being a lawyer makes people sit up and pay attention to my ability to do a lot of different things. So work hard; appreciate (the education) you’re getting. It’s a big deal. You have to just take advantage of it,” she said.

This article was written by T.K. Brady.