Home » Bluegrass Market Review | Vibrant arts scene sparks innovation in commercial life

Bluegrass Market Review | Vibrant arts scene sparks innovation in commercial life

By Kathie Stamps

The Lancaster Theatre presents A Christmas Carol.
The Lancaster Theatre presents A Christmas Carol.

Music, dance, poetry, creative writing, painting, drawing, sculpture, theater are the leading categories of artistic and cultural expression, and are as old as civilization itself. A vibrant arts and culture scene contribute immensely to the quality of life and enriches the region’s business climate.

mrbg-cover300In Central Kentucky, the economic impact of the arts is significant. Generating millions of dollars of economic impact benefits to the artists themselves, the organizations and businesses that support them, and the community at large.

Total economic activity in 2016 was estimated at $32.1 million, according to Ellen A. “Nan” Plummer, president and CEO of LexArts.

“This spending by organizations and their audiences supports 1,185 full-time equivalent jobs,” Plummer said. “The arts are also a big factor in our quality of life and sense of place. Our great public art, the Gallery Hop, theater and dance for all ages, music for all tastes – our culture attracts people to Lexington and keeps them here.”

LexArts is an advocacy and fundraising organization that develops and promotes arts experiences for the benefit of all. It is the oldest area arts council in Kentucky. Formed in 1989 as the Lexington Arts & Cultural Council by the merger of the Lexington Council of the Arts (founded in 1972) and the Fund for the Arts (from 1984), the name was shortened to LexArts in 2005.

In partnership with the city, LexArts operates ArtsPlace. Built in 1904 as a YMCA, this downtown art center provides rooms for rehearsals and performances, artist studios and galleries, and office space for several nonprofit arts organizations.

With an annual budget of around $1.8 million, LexArts supports individual artists and organizations. Artist grants range from $500 to $2,500. Community Arts Development grants go to 11 programs (including African American Forum and Lexington Singers) and 19 projects (including Lexington Community Radio and The Nest). Through LexArts’ two levels of general operating support, six organizations apply for and are granted GOS monies: Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning; Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras; Lexington Art League; Lexington Children’s Theatre; Lexington Philharmonic; and the Living Arts and Science Center.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017, the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning houses the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame (created in 2012) and is the venue for the annual Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Formerly the city’s main public library, the building opened in 1905 as a Carnegie facility, one of 2,500 worldwide libraries funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Lexington’s Carnegie Center, unlike any other city, is both a literacy organization and a writing center, offering writing classes for children and adults. The center also encourages connections between literature and art.

Carnegie Center hosts special literary arts events like its Carnegie Classic series with ticketed costume parties for “1984” and “The Great Gatsby,” among other literary favorites, that encourage guests to dress as their favorite characters or in period costume.

In partnership with Triangle Foundation, the Carnegie Center launched a mobile reading room last year at Triangle Park, downtown’s Main and Broadway visual focal point. The child-friendly mobile bookcase was custom-designed and built by metalwork artist Nate Hensley, who won a 2016 Innovative Nonprofit award from the Kentucky Nonprofit Network.

Innovation and creativity came together in 2017 by way of the Lexington chapter of CreativeMornings, a global brand based in New York. All 160 member cities (in 60 countries) have a speaker on the same topic. The theme changes monthly, as does each local venue, for an event designed to connect and inspire people face to face.

“A community offering great ‘food for thought’ through the arts is ahead of the game,” said artist Celeste Lewis, facilitator for CreativeMornings Lexington. “A creative economy is a healthy economy because it encompasses technology, fine arts, performing arts, creative food culture, architecture and design – it impacts so much.”

Jamie Rogers, council aide for councilperson Amanda Bledsoe, got the CreativeMornings ball rolling in Lexington. In 2016, she and Lewis began the application process, knowing that the home office in New York only considered cities with a population of at least 500,000. With a three-minute video from Cornett showing why Lexington is a creative city, the chapter was approved. The first event in January 2017 held 225 people at 21c Museum Hotel, with 200 more on a waiting list.

“Clearly Lexington was ready for CreativeMornings,” Lewis said. “Lexington has amazing people doing amazing things and we are all so enjoying providing a gathering where we can all share that.

ArtsPlace, The Livery, UK Art Museum and the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center are among the venues hosting CreativeMornings events.

The Downtown Arts Center, built in 2002, houses a fine art gallery for exhibits and a black box theater – a plain room with flat flooring and walls painted black to allow a custom-designed stage and seating configuration for each performance. Formerly managed by LexArts, as of 2014 the center is under the management of Lexington Parks & Recreation and was renamed in 2017 as the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, to honor the former mayor under whose administration the center was built.

One of the companies performing at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center is Movement Continuum. The professional dance company was founded by a group of Lexington friends in late 2010 and features contemporary dance at the heart of each production. Their extravagant multimedia shows involve many dancers and media projections and up to 1,500 pieces of origami artwork.

Blackbird Dance Theatre opened its studio doors in 2014 on Moore Drive. As a dance school, classes in various types of dance are offered for all ages. As a theater company, Blackbird also performs original productions throughout the year at various indoor and outdoor venues, including the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center.

University of Kentucky introduced a bachelor of arts degree in dance in the 2017 fall semester; a dance minor has been available for six years. 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Department of Theatre and Dance within the UK College of Fine Arts. UK School of Music presents more than 200 recitals, concerts and performances annually, most often at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Within the Singletary building is the UK Art Museum, which is also part of the UK College of Fine Arts and houses around 5,000 pieces of visual art. Admission is free to the museum and open to the public.

From individual artistic expression to small groups and large organizations, Central Kentucky embraces all manner of arts and culture. When tens of thousands of people show up at once, it’s time to move to an outdoor venue and call it a festival.

LexEffect, an event management company, sponsors MoonTower Music Festival at Masterson Station Park. Founded in 2014, the summertime family-friendly event has two stages for 14 bands of various musical genres. Locally sourced foods and artisans are also part of the one-day festival, and partial proceeds benefit Central Music Academy.

“We are a waste-free festival,” said Kaelyn Query, founder and president of LexEffect. “We partner with Bluegrass Greensource to sort trash, recycle and compost.”

In 2013 Smiley Pete Publishing started Crave Lexington Festival. That two-day culinary festival quickly outgrew the space at Beaumont Centre’s Moon Dance Amphitheater and now also takes place at Masterson Station Park each August, featuring 50 Kentucky food vendors, local beer, wine and cocktails, live music, a classic car show and an activity zone for kids.

“A thriving arts community is a great tool to attract and recruit people to choose Lexington to bring their talents and put down roots,” said CreativeMornings’ Lewis. “I know this is said a lot but, we have a great quality of life.”

The surrounding Bluegrass counties are also hotbeds of arts activities. Entities like the Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, Woodford Theater in Versailles, The Art Depository in Nicholasville and many others.


African American Forum


Berea Arts Council

Berea – bereaartscouncil.org

Blackbird Dance Theatre


Bluegrass Theatre Guild

Frankfort – bluegrasstheatreguild.com

Bluegrass Youth Ballet


Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning


Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras


Central Music Academy


Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts

Richmond – ekucenter.com

Grand Theater

Frankfort – grandtheatrefrankfort.org

Headley-Whitney Museum


Innovation Arts Academy


Institute 193


Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea

Berea – kentuckyartisancenter.ky.gov

Kentucky Arts Council

Frankfort – artscouncil.ky.gov

Kentucky Ballet Theatre


Kentucky Repertory Dance Theatre


Kentucky Theater


Leeds Center for the Arts

Winchester – leedscenter.org

Lexington Art League


Lexington Ballet


Lexington Chamber Chorale


Lexington Children’s Theatre


Lexington Community Radio


Lexington Opera Society


Lexington Philharmonic


Lexington Public Library


Lexington Singers


Living Arts & Science Center


Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center


Movement Continuum


Norton Center for the Arts

Danville – nortoncenter.com

Pioneer Playhouse

Danville –pioneerplayhouse.com

Red Barn Radio


Richmond Area Arts Council


Singletary Center for the Arts


Studio Players


University of Kentucky Art Museum


Woodford Theater

Versailles –woodfordtheatre.com

Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour


Yuko-En On the Elkhorn, the Official Kentucky-Japan Friendship Garden

Georgetown – yuko-en.com