By Mary Ellen Slone
“Art is a human activity having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and best feelings to which men have risen.”
– Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi, What Is Art (1898)
In April of 1782, the local inhabitants of our fledgling community petitioned for permission to become an independent entity, separate from the Commonwealth ofVirginia. The request was granted, and our determined forefathers began to morph their settlement into what was subsequently named “Athens of the West—Lexington”.
Two-plus centuries later, our metropolis is internationally recognized as being the “Horse Capital of the World”, concurrently being home to the headquarters of several major corporations, a mecca of urbane sophistication, and for an arts community which has taken its collective levels of inspiration and creativity to new heights of sophistication. More precisely, our community has embraced the concept of the conscious use of skill and creative imagination in the production of a variety of all forms of aesthetic art.
In addition to significantly supporting the more ‘traditional’ art forms which continue to expand their respective visions and genres, Lexingtonians are now seeing a growing and enthusiastic support for outdoor mural and public art programs. One very high profile example was “Horse Mania”, a hugely successful project that transformed nearly life-sized fiberglass horses into extraordinarily creative works of art prominently displayed around our city’s most visible locations. Today, the community has embraced the concept of having more unique and visible art which can be enjoyed and appreciated throughout the city.
The fall of 2013 brought a similar project to the streets of downtown Lexington, yet this time a bourbon barrel was the canvas. “The Bourbon Barrel Project” on Town Branch was a unique public art project that celebrated not only the history and lore of bourbon, but also the chronicle of a long-buried stream that was the formative basis of Lexington, the Town Branch. Thousands were intrigued by 41 barrels, stunningly decorated by local artists, that dotted the cityscape for over two months. The sheer value of the project is revealed in the results: $57,000 in local artist wages, $145,000 in sponsorships, $64,850 in auction proceeds and a total of $216,000 raised.
With the City’s annual “Fund for the Arts” campaign now underway, Jim Clark, current President and CEO of the not-for-profit organization LexArts, notes that there are numerous, positive reasons to anticipate that this year’s campaign will reach or even exceed its goal of $1.25 million. “The cultural scene here is more vibrant than it has probably ever been – the maturation of our arts groups has been exceptional – there are more people involved, people with passion, people who understand the key contributions that arts of all genres make to the quality of life in our community.”
He added, “Lexington’s ambiance and its numerous attributes have attracted new high-profile companies to our city.” Clark noted that Tracee Whitley, Chief Operating Officer for Boston-based law giant Bingham McCutchen, is proud to be a new Lexington resident. Her office is at the firm’s new service center at Coldstream, and she has accepted the challenge to serve as Campaign Chair for this year’s LexArts Fund for the Arts initiative. What prompted her decision? Ms. Whitley noted, “I fell in love with Lexington! I’d been living in the Boston area nearly 30 years, but the beauty of Central Kentucky, the great quality of life, the historic downtown, the vibrant activity, the university community, the arts scene and the diversity all influenced me. My team members and I want to participate in the community which we will proudly call home!”
Further, according to Clark, “We have so many quality options for both appreciating and participating in art here in Lexington. Our level of culture is more vibrant than ever before; we have established a kind of ‘arts eco-system’ with more people not only being directly involved within the arts, but also proudly supporting the concept.
Contributing to the evident enthusiasm for public art is a positive willingness on the part of many of our citizens to view our expanding portfolio of created pieces and to engage themselves with these works. As evidence, Clark sites the dedication of the neighborhood mural located at Race and 3rd Streets here in town. Through a statewide Request for Qualifications, 21 Kentucky artists applied for consideration to design and create the mural. After a detailed review of all applicants, three semi-finalists (coincidentally all Lexington residents) were each paid $500 to create a proposal specific to the East End. The selection committee then engaged the community through public review and feedback at the Lyric Theater and Cultural Arts Center, the William Wells Brown Center and the former Pak-n-Save, which is the planned physical location of the new mural. A very impressive number of creative submissions were received for the design, and after extensive consideration the $12,000 mural commission was awarded to East-End resident Sundiata Rashid to bring to life his 15’ x 50’ mural titled “Know Your History, Then Make History”.
Clark explained, “The East End mural project engaged folks from all across our community as it was being created. The mural’s dedication drew an exceptionally large number of individuals and media, as well as renowned Jazz musician Les McCann, a former East-End resident himself.
We may not yet be at the “if we build it, they will come!” stage with our public art program, but we’ve certainly engaged a significant percentage of the community with our activities.
Another outdoor mural will be created soon. LexArts has asked for submissions from local artists to craft a visual landmark this spring at 572 Georgetown Street. The Lexington Mural Project is planned to be a multi-year transformational effort to ‘morph’ blank walls and surfaces into works of art.
“The ongoing and expanding success of this initiative will depend on how many more individuals and groups we can move from ‘being interested in civic art’ to ‘becoming active in its proliferation.’ There’s a sizeable plan to invest intellectual capital in reaching out to the community to nurture more understanding and appreciation of how arts groups can and should structure themselves for success. LexArts will lead this intriguing initiative for the benefit of the entire community.
“High up on the list of hoped-for results is to encourage our younger adults to help us to provide cultural incentives that will motivate them not to leave our city in quests for another metropolis, which may be further along in its list of ‘things to see, to do, and to participate in’ than we are here in Lexington.”
About LexArts’ Fund for the Arts
Last year, LexArts’ United Arts Fund distributed $479,500 through General Operating Support Grants - providing unrestricted grants to arts organizations which demonstrate strong arts mission fulfillment, fiscal responsibility and sound management; $71,600 through Community Arts Development Grants; $71,000 through LFUCG EcoArt Grants; and $206,990 through Public Art programs.
The 2013-2014 General Operating Suppors Recipients were the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Lexington Children’s Theatre, Living Arts & Science Center, Lexington Art League, Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, and Balagula Theatre.
Community Arts Development Program and Project Grants went to Balagula Theatre, Bluegrass Youth Ballet, Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, Chamber Music Festival of Lexington, Explorium of Lexington, Institute 193, Kentucky Ballet Theatre, Kentucky Women Writers Conference, Lexington Ballet Company, Lexington Chamber Chorale, Lexington Singers, March Madness Marching Band, Nia
Urban Ministries, Inc., Tweens Nutrition and Fitness Coalition, and PRHBTN.
LexArts is the non-profit community organization that works for the development of a strong and vibrant arts community as a means of enhancing the quality of life in Central Kentucky. In addition to the previously mentioned grants, LEXARTS oversees the management of both the Downtown Arts Center on Main Street, and ArtsPlace on Mill Street-both in the heart of our city. Major support for LexArts programs and services is provided by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. Through the annual Fund for the Arts campaign, LexArts raises money in funding support of local arts. In turn, the high-profile not-for-profit entity underwrites the operating expenses for a variety of partner organizations; offers affordable exhibition and performance space for arts organizations, as well as funding competitive grants for community outreach projects. The Kentucky Arts Council, the State arts agency, provides operating support to LexArts with state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Support the cause! LexArts.org