OZ Arts Nashville Co-founder, Tim Ozgener Learned By Doing

Tim Ozgener, 46, was born and raised in Nashville.

His Armenian father and his Turkish mother were both born in Istanbul. The two met in New York City, fell in love and eloped in Nashville where Tim’s mother got her Ph.D. from Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development.

“Working with and coming from an immigrant family where you learned by doing was a pretty rewarding thing,” Tim said. “At the time, it was second nature. We weren’t afraid of doing anything, whether it was something we had to roll up our sleeves for or whether it was pricing pipes and going to selling pipes at conventions.”

Tim’s father started their family cigar company, CAO Cigars, first selling humidors, Meerschaum pipes, then Central American cigars. CAO was known for its unique packaging and blends with famous brands like Brazilia, Gold, and The Sopranos Edition.In 2007, Scandinavian Tobacco Group acquired CAO.

Inspired by Park Avenue Amory and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York along with the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Tim and his father wanted to create a place for the arts in Nashville.

So in 2013, the former headquarters of CAO Cigars was adapted into a nonprofit contemporary arts center and OZ Arts Nashville was born. Today, Tim is the CEO and president of OZ Arts Nashville.

“The people we are bringing to OZ Arts Nashville are bringing different things and contributing to conversations all over the world, but a lot of similar discussions are happening so, the world seems to be becoming a smaller place,” he said.

Tim said it is important for people to have communities where they can listen to one another and hear each other’s viewpoints. He said people should listen with empathy by putting themselves in someone else’s shoes and with tolerance.

“It’s exciting that we work with contemporary artists because that means these artists are living and are creating work in reaction to the times and cultures of today, and we can also have a conversation with them,” he said.

Tim said people are more apt to be moved by an experience within art and within the community, rather than just listening to the media.


Coming from a very hard working and practical family, when Tim told his parents he wanted to be an actor, they wondered how he would make money.

So like the business man that he his, Tim made a deal with his parents. He asked them to support his decision to be an actor if he was able to get into a highly competitive acting school.

After his freshman year at the University of Denver, Tim went to Chicago in the middle of a blizzard to audition for different schools. He auditioned for five schools and got into three out of the five.

“I ended up going to USC because they were ranked pretty high and because they were in Los Angeles, the epicenter of film and acting,” he said. “Going out there was a different experience. I learned that the entertainment business was difficult to break into and make a consistent living doing. I had mentors out there that were considered to be successful working actors, and they were, but they would shoot a commercial one day and then spend their time sending out postcards with their faces on them to people hoping to get their next job.”

During the day, instead of waiting tables like so many other actors trying to make it, he was visiting smoke shops trying to sell his family’s pipes, humidors, and cigars.

For a more consistent product, Tim began taking trips to Nicaragua. He made friends with the manufacturers, started giving the retailers what they wanted, and the business flourished.

Throughout his time in Los Angeles, Tim realized trying to be a professional actor was a risky lifestyle with chances of never receiving a big break.

“Even though I loved the art and craft, I didn’t love it enough to give up a nice quality of life,” he said. “It wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. I admire those artists who say they can’t live unless they do this, but I learned that I wasn’t one of those people.”

Tim said even though it wasn’t for him he’s glad he tried it and had all the opportunities he did. He said it’s important for people to go out and do new things just to see what happens and how they’ll respond.

“Everyone has their journey that they have to experience for themselves. Your parents telling you not to do something or saying they told you so isn’t what’s going to stick with you. What’s going to stick with you is if you go and try it and come to your own conclusion.”

Tim said in Los Angeles in this comedy and acting training he learned things that apply to his life now. In an improv comedy training classes, he learned an exercise called expert talker. In the exercise, someone was given a random topic and had to speak about it as if they were an expert.

“What it taught me was to always be prepared,” he said. “I learned to speak with confidence if I was ever put on the spot, and it helped me not to be flustered in that sense.”

Tim said communication nowadays is crucial.

“If you want to be an effective communicator, you have to speak well with people and connect with people. It’s a skill that’s still very underrated.”

In 1999, Tim moved back to Nashville to be closer to his family.


“I think change is good,” Tim said speaking of Nashville’s economic, development, and cultural boom within the last few years. “The quality of life in Nashville is great, and it’s a fun city.”

He said the secret ingredient to Nashville is that people are friendly, and it’s just a nice place to be.

“If you have a good idea, and it makes sense to people, and they can wrap their heads around it then they’ll be supportive of it,” he said. “There’s something about Nashville that makes other people want to see you succeed.”

Tim said because the city is growing, Nashvillians have to be careful to maintain what makes it a warm and inviting city so that the quality of life keeps up with the pace of the growth.

“Sometimes there can be some problematic tension between what is important for those in the city and those outside of the city – the urban versus rural viewpoints,” he said. “They’re conflicting and apparently not unique to Tennessee, but I do believe that it’s important for us to be conscious of it and sensitive to it. That’s why I think the arts are important in that conversation.”

For Tim, the elephant in the room, or in the car, in this case, is traffic. He said the solution to the city’s congestion woes looked like a combination of things instead of a silver bullet. He said he has faith and confidence that Mayor Megan Barry and her team will be able to determine the right course of action for the city.


 “The community is defined by a collective group of people who are existing to see the city that they live in be a warm, friendly, working, and an efficient place.”

Tim said community is like fertile soil. He said when people plant seedlings they want them to grow into beautiful plants.

“We all want our Metro School System to be a rich fertile soil that we can plant seeds and see good citizens grow out of it. And that goes across the board, not just in education,” he said.

“We want to be a caring community – a community that has empathy and one that has tolerance, one has conversations and one that isn’t homogenous.”

Tim said because Nashville has that base of country music it makes it a type of community or fertile ground for more arts of various kinds and genres to bloom.  He, like many others, advocate for more awareness, philosophy and philanthropy for the arts.

“A lot of times people think of philanthropy as being starving kids who need food, and yes there are, and then there are needs that are social needs, but the arts provide food for the soul. They provide inspiration. They provide hope and will to live.”

Tim said it’s important for people to be supportive of the arts by going to shows, galleries or anything else interesting to them. He said if someone can’t afford to be a member of an arts organization or can’t be a big philanthropist there are still ways to be involved.

“Artists and art organizations appreciate it,” he said. “If you looked at Nashville’s per capita dollar amounts spent on the arts by the city, Nashville is at $5 per capita. Charlotte, North Carolina is at about $15 per capita,” he said.

“We still have ways to go. We need to encourage support for the arts through a local and state governments, and we need to do it as individuals for the city.”

Tim is married and has two boys, eight and nine years old.

To find out more about OZ Arts Nashville, including performances and events click here.