Home » Vibrant artists, passionate patrons add rich culture to Bluegrass region

Vibrant artists, passionate patrons add rich culture to Bluegrass region

By Kathie Stamps

The Lexington Theatre Company— The Lex—works to create first-rate, professional regional theater while training and nurturing the next generation of theatrical artists. Photo courtesy of The Lex

(CENTRAL KY. MARKET REVIEW) — The arts benefit participant, spectator, patron … everyone. Throughout Central Kentucky, support for the arts comes from public and private sectors, from government agencies and business owners, and from individuals. Business owners and community leaders sit on the boards of directors of every arts organization.

The Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, named for Lexington’s 1993-2003 mayor, is operated by the Parks and Recreation Department of the Lexington-Fayette government. The facility has a black box theater for up to 250 seats configured in any desired pattern, a city gallery and community gallery, as well as venue space available for rent.

With Lexington Art League, Parks and Recreation produces the two-day Woodland Art Fair that tens of thousands attend each August.
Lexington Art League in 2022 celebrates its 65th anniversary as a membership organization for visual artists. The nonprofit LAL has been based in the Loudoun House mansion since 1984. LAL and PRHBTN have run the annual PRHBTN Exhibition at the Loudoun House each fall since 2011. Most of the many public murals on Lexington buildings, more than 30, are facilitated through PRHBTN.

The arts comprise music, dance, theater, painting, sculpture, photography, literature, cinema and even architecture. Built in 1904 as a YMCA, ArtsPlace just off Main on Mill Street is a Beaux Arts structure downtown housing the offices of LexArts, the area’s arts advocacy and fundraising entity. Formerly known as the Lexington Arts & Cultural Council, the name was shortened in 2005.

The performance hall inside ArtsPlace is home to the weekly music program “Red Barn Radio,” which began its 20th season in September. Tyler Childers and Sturgill Simpson are among the artists who have performed. Billed as “Roots music, Southern style,” Red Barn is livestreamed on YouTube and broadcast on Sunday nights on WEKU-FM.

The Lexington Theatre Company welcomes Broadway stars—three recently—to perform along with up-and-coming college students and recent graduates.

Studio Players lays claim to being the oldest community-involved theater in Kentucky. The group formed in 1953 and performs stage plays at the Carriage House Theatre in Lexington’s Bell Court neighborhood. In late July, it performed a festival of 10-minute plays via Zoom, originating from the actors’ houses. The annual season of five plays runs from fall through late spring.

Transylvania Theater’s 2021-22 season, from October to May, features student-driven shows in Transy’s Little Theater after a season of online performances last year.

Mark Johnson, president of artistic operations at Community Ventures, is the driving force behind Art Inc. Kentucky, a nonprofit business and marketing incubator that helps Kentucky artists build their businesses, and ArtHouse Kentucky, a nonprofit retail art gallery that promotes and sells the work of emerging and established Kentucky artists and makers. Located next to DV8 Kitchen, Carolyn’s Crown and Glory Hair Salon and Manchester Coffee Co. at The MET, the ArtHouse Kentucky gallery represents over 50 artists from across the state, many of whom are people of color. Mediums include original paintings, photography, pottery, basketmaking, jewelry, woodwork and fiber.

The MET, a mixed-use development project at Midland and East Third (thus the initials MET) opened in stages throughout 2021, starting with residential apartments, retail outlets and 4,000 s.f. of space for artist studios on the second floor.

The annual Ballet Under the Stars offers a night of professional ballet in the unique setting of Woodland Park. LFUCG photo

At the 940-seat Lexington Opera House, its artistic stage became a mini golf course from Dec. 11, 2020, to April 11, 2021, when most venues were completely shut down. A total of 3,145 players took advantage of the socially distanced activity, playing nine Broadway-themed holes. The first Opera House concert of 2021 was May 14 when Lexington Singers performed “A Brand New Day.” The 2021-2022 season with five shows for Broadway Live and two for Variety Live has the largest number of season tickets sold in the venue’s history.

The Lexington Theatre Company, branded as The Lex, has a “Concert With the Stars” scheduled Jan. 8, 2022, as one of the Variety Live events at the Opera House. The cabaret-style show features three stars from Broadway and national tours along with collegiate performers from Lexington. The Lex has a full season of productions scheduled in 2022 with two summer musicals and a fall collaboration of culinary and theatrical storytelling known as “Script to Table.”

Just completing a $230 million three-year expansion, Central Bank Center hosted the four-day Lexington Comic and Toy Convention in September. The center incorporates Rupp Arena, which hosted more than 15,000 country music fans Sept. 17 for the opening night of Eric Church’s “The Gather Again Tour.” Elton John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour” is on the books for April 9, 2022, and the “DNA World Tour” by the Backstreet Boys is set for Sept. 6, 2022.

In late August 2021, Lexington Center Corp. signed a multiyear agreement with Los Angeles-based Oak View Group Facilities to manage day-to-day operations of Central Bank Center, which includes the 20,000-seat Rupp Arena, the new 200,000-s.f. convention center and the Opera House. Lexington Center Corp. is a 501(c)(3) entity of the city of Lexington. Bill Owen, president and CEO of Lexington Center Corp., has been with the organization since 1991 and will retire on June 30, 2022. Oak View booking director Brian Sipe will succeed Owen.

Gov. Andy Beshear appointed Lexington poet and author Crystal Wilkinson as the 2021-2022 Kentucky poet laureate. An associate professor of English at the University of Kentucky, she was inducted in a virtual ceremony in April. Wilkin’s latest book, “Perfect Black,” published in August, is her first poetry collection.

Philanthropist Ben C. Kaufmann and wife Janet Zusman, longtime arts supporters, in April 2021 established the Ben C. Kaufmann and Janet Zusman Music Fund for the UK College of Fine Arts and the School of Music with a $6.6 million deferred gift, the largest in the history of UK College of Fine Arts.

“Woodsongs,” the eclectic Monday night concert and international radio program, returned in mid-August to the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center. The Roots & Heritage Festival returned to Lexington Sept. 10-12 at the Lyric Theater and Cultural Arts Center; this year’s virtual parade and concerts were streamed on YouTube.

The Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet announced in July that three Kentucky historic preservation projects will receive $50,000 each in federal money to help preserve African American history in Kentucky. Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation is funding a feasibility study for reusing the Palmer Pharmacy Building, 60-year-old minority community landmark in Lexington.

At the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond, Lexington Ballet Co.’s performance of “The Nutcracker” is one of several holiday shows on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University.

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