By Robbie Clark
Lexington and the surrounding Central Kentucky region’s vibrant arts, entertainment and cultural scene attracts locals and thousands of visitors from throughout the nation every year.
From theater, live music and visual arts to much anticipated annual festivals and series, many of which appear on regional and national “best of” lists, this burgeoning sector of the economy continues to be a growing revenue and job generator for the region.
The numbers are telling.
According to a report by the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, travel and tourism accounted for over $3 billion in total spending within the 15-county Central Kentucky region in 2015. Spending in Lexington alone topped the $2 billion – a milestone for the city. This revenue is responsible for impressive tourism employments numbers: nearly 27,000 for the region and over 15,000 for Lexington.
Strong arts organizations
A lineup of organizations help guide and grow arts and cultural initiatives in Lexington and Central Kentucky. One of the most prolific is LexArts, a nonprofit arts and cultural development organization that raises money on behalf of groups representing an array of disciplines. Nonprofit arts and culture is an $18.6 million industry in Lexington – one that supports more than 700 jobs and generates nearly $2 million in local and state government revenue, a LexArts report found. Dozens of downtown Lexington locations open their spaces to the public to showcase visual arts during the popular bimonthly Gallery Hop events.
Lexington Art League is a nonprofit that promotes visual arts – from local to international artists – through exhibits, events, classes and other programming. In 2017 the organization celebrates its 60th anniversary. Lexington Art League has been headquartered for more than 30 years in the Loudoun House, a 5,000-s.f. gothic villa. Every August for 40-plus years the organization has produced Woodland Art Fair, attracting more than 200 juried artists from across the country to Woodland Park for a two-day event with art, music, food, kids’ activities and more. Tens of thousands of visitors attend.
For stage productions, Lexington is home to one of the oldest, continuously operated community theater troupes in the nation, the Studio Players. The curtains first rose on the group over 60 years ago, and for decades productions have been staged at the historic Carriage House Theatre in the Bell Court neighborhood just east of downtown Lexington. Coming up on its 80th anniversary in 2018, Lexington Children’s Theatre stages professional productions of new and classic stories for school-age children throughout the region in its downtown Lexington theater.
Pioneer Playhouse in Danville 30 miles south of Lexington is Kentucky’s oldest outdoor theater, with the venerable institution having seen a number of notable actors on its stage through the years, including John Travolta and Lee Majors. Its vintage stage was hand-built in 1950 and continues to pull in audiences from across the region. A recent production of “Good Blues Tonight!” featured Clark Davis, Miss Kentucky 2015.
Central Kentucky also is home to the vibrant philharmonic Lexington Philharmonic, an orchestra that produces more than 100 concerts, educational classes and community programs every year. It celebrated its 55th anniversary in 2016.
Good places to see a show
Along with the successful arts organizations, Lexington is home to many highly respected performance venues and facilities – the most notable being Rupp Arena, which packs in over 23,000 attendees during each University of Kentucky men’s basketball home game. A $15 million summer 2016 technology update the arena includes a new center court scoreboard and sound system, upgraded Wi-Fi access and new electronic ribbon boards.
Other busy venues include The Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, which reopened in 2010 after full restoration, and the recently renovated, circa 1886 Lexington Opera House. The Kentucky Theatre on Main Street function as both a vintage movie theater and concert hall. On the UK campus, the 1,500-seat Singletary Center brings in national acts and hosts regional performances by local groups in its acoustically setting. The MoonDance at Midnight Pass Amphitheatre, located in the Beaumont neighborhood in south Lexington, is home to many outdoor productions and music series.
In spring 2016, The Living Arts & Science Center educational exhibition space opened a $5.5 million, 11,000-s.f. addition, which doubled the facility’s size with a digital media lab, maker space, teaching kitchen and a planetarium. Outdoors, the project added butterfly gardens, rain gardens and a medicinal herb garden. A new two-story exterior glass wall feature can present digital art installations.
Actors Guild of Lexington
Art Museum at the University of Kentucky
Berea Arts Council
Berea – bereaartscouncil.org
Bluegrass Theatre Guild
Frankfort – bluegrasstheatreguild.com
Bluegrass Youth Ballet
Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning
Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras
Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts
Richmond – ekucenter.com
Frankfort – grandtheatrefrankfort.org
Great American Brass Festival
Danville – gabbf.org
Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea
Berea – kentuckyartisancenter.ky.gov
Kentucky Arts Council
Frankfort – artscouncil.ky.gov
Kentucky Ballet Theatre
Kentucky Repertory Dance Theatre
Leeds Center for the Arts
Winchester – leedscenter.org
Lexington Art League
Lexington Chamber Chorale
Lexington Children’s Theatre
Lexington Opera Society
The Lexington Philharmonic
Lexington Public Library
The Lexington Singers
Living Arts & Science Center
Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center
Norton Center for the Arts
Danville – nortoncenter.com
Danville – pioneerplayhouse.com
Richmond Area Arts Council
Singletary Center for the Arts
University of Kentucky Art Museum
Versailles – woodfordcountytheater.com
Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour
Yuko-En On the Elkhorn, the Official Kentucky-Japan Friendship Garden
Georgetown – yuko-en.com