Nashville’s Ozgener family makes the transition from cigars to fine arts.
When you hear the word “Oz,” you can’t help but think of things like Dorothy, Emerald City and the wizard. But the Ozgener family has given new meaning to the word with OZ Arts Nashville, a performance and event center for innovative and contemporary art experiences. It’s no secret that Nashville and the surrounding suburbs are growing by leaps and bounds and that means more art and entertainment outlets are finding their way here, too.
Tim Ozgener, President and CEO of OZ Arts says, “We love Nashville. Nashville is a friendly and open minded city, open to all types of people with all types of different backgrounds. We are also blessed to have many wonderful arts organizations in town. We are honored to be able to be contributors to this fertile landscape by bringing contemporary arts in multiple disciplines of performing and visual arts to the city and to the region.”
The Ozgener family, founders of CAO Cigars, sold the cigar business in 2007 and adapted their company’s former headquarters into the contemporary performance and event center that OZ is today. “We had inspiration from similar contemporary arts centers across the country,” says Ozgener. “Particularly, BAM in Brooklyn, Park Avenue Armory, Mass MoCA, PICA in Portland, and Art Basel along with the Miami Design District, where there are a lot of warehouses that have been converted into contemporary arts centers, much like ours. We saw how contemporary arts served as an economic and community development stimulus for those areas and thought, ‘why not Nashville?’
“All of this came after we sold our cigar business. Premium cigars are a 100 percent handmade artisan craft. We applied a lot of color and artistry to our packaging which made our brands stand out. We always like providing a ‘wow’ factor in how we interacted with the consumers, how our cigars tasted, and the packaging. We try to accomplish the same things with the customer experience at OZ Arts.”
It should come as no surprise that the creative arts practically run through the Ozgeners’ blood. Tim proudly points out, “We have always loved all kinds of arts. My father is an Armenian from Istanbul and my mom is from Istanbul as well. My father got his master’s at Columbia University and my mother was a Fulbright scholar at Bank Street College. While they were there in New York City as students, they always went to standing room only performances at all kinds of arts venues in Manhattan. So I was fortunate, as a child, to also be exposed to all different types of performing and visual arts.”
He adds, “In the early 2000’s, my father almost died of lymphoma cancer. During that period of time, he had an epiphany through a beautiful lullaby that an Irish nurse sang to him when he felt like he was close to losing his battle — that the arts can inspire one to want to live. He would later say that when things look bleak and dark and hopeless, one will find a spark of light there, and that will be art. He also reconnected with the beauty of the world around us through painting and appreciating the color of the sky, grass, and other aspects of nature. When he told me of this experience, and the desire my parents had to plant the seed money to start something positive as a means to contribute to our city, I was all in.
“The arts stimulate us to consider different perspectives. It highlights things that are beautiful and things that are not. It opens the door for qualities such as empathy, tolerance, and elicits different viewpoints and motivates conversation. We look forward, at OZ Arts, to continue to push the envelope and raise the bar for us as human beings.”