In a vibrant community like Lexington’s, the arts are often a needed outlet — for those who create art as well as those who consume. But the city’s art scene would not have flourished as it has without organizations like Arts Connect, a non-profit dedicated to creating arts awareness and fostering creativity through events, programs and exposure.
“Arts Connect has been a vital contributing player in the Lexington arts scene, responding to the need for programs that provide opportunities for artists and community alike and creating ways for these groups to come together in mutual appreciation,” explained Kate Savage, Arts Connect’s executive director. “Its mission today is to create more arts awareness and appreciation in Lexington through these programs, as well as to provide meaningful engagement and advocacy and by supporting all forms of artistic expression and endeavor.”
Savage, who grew up in Bahrain but spent much of her youth in England, embodies the arts patronage channeled through her organization. She recalled a childhood appreciation for classical music, teenage hitchhiking to Stratford-upon-Avon to watch Shakespeare plays, and playing hooky from boarding school to catch musicals in London. She moved to Lexington in the ’70s after marrying a Lexingtonian she had met in the U.K., and has found her adopted city to be the perfect place to channel her lifelong passion for the arts.
“I think Lexington is an inspiring environment and rich in all the art forms, not just visual arts,” she explained. “Having a supportive community has been key to the arts thriving and flourishing. We are also fortunate in being home to the University of Kentucky. An academic presence adds a layer overall to the community, elevates the general milieu, and contributes to the health of a well-rounded, balanced city.”
Today, her work largely focuses on finding ways to bring Lexington’s arts community together and to foster the massive potential that it has. Arts Connect strives to remain a neutral supporter of all those creating art, and recently introduced Lexington’s Arts Awards Luncheon as a way to celebrate artists in a community-voted way.
“One of the challenges Arts Connect is attempting to meet is finding ways to bring the various arts groups together for mutual benefit as well as cultivating the sense of unity, an ‘arts community’ for all those who are a part of it,” Savage said. “The luncheon was a heartwarming success with all the arts groups represented and present in support of their category’s honoree. The energy was truly palpable. It was an exciting beginning to what will be an annual event.”
Another major challenge for Arts Connect has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted Lexington’s arts community as harshly as nearly any other. Arts venues have been forced to shut down, furlough staff, and cancel programs. Arts Connect was forced to pivot as well, creating hybrids of many of its programs, leveraging video conferencing platforms, hosting virtual galleries, taking to social media, and adding an arts shop to its website to press on with its vital work despite social distancing guidelines.
“We brought artists and community together through virtual gallery exhibitions with online, Zoom-hosted receptions where interested individuals could meet artists and discuss their work with personal input,” Savage said. “This ended up becoming hugely popular and will continue post-pandemic, offering a unique and personal, but virtual, connection.”
One of Arts Connect’s most unique programs — which was inspired by Savage’s own love of travel — is its “Trips And Tours” offering of group expeditions to other cities hosting unique arts installations and experiences. It has brought attendees to Indianapolis, Chicago, Washington, Santa Fe, and St. Louis for a range of cultural offerings, while planned expeditions to Venice and Egypt have had to be rescheduled to next year as travel has been restricted. When local art lovers do get the chance to travel with Arts Connect, they’ll get the chance to see these cities through Savage’s eyes.
“These are trips that start out being built around a cultural or arts component but are then developed into a multisensory experience,” Savage explained. “These trips are packed with things to do, places to go, and fabulous food to eat. I like to design my trips so that if you are never able to return, then at least you’ll know you’ve pretty much done it all with me.”
But ultimately, any of Arts Connect’s programs and the city’s arts scene in general are dependent on the community they serve. While it’s clear that Savage, her program, and her fellow passionate creatives are resilient, she must be hopeful that Lexington will do its part as well.
“I hope that Lexington rallies behind the arts with renewed enthusiasm and supports this industry by going to art openings, by purchasing local artwork, buying tickets to performing arts productions, donating to the nonprofits that provide the underpinnings for these organizations,” Savage concluded. “Just get on board any way possible to shore up our valuable arts resource.”