Taking a Bow

Speed Art Museum. Photo by Bill Wine.

Louisville arts organizations relish their Bestie Award wins

By Laura Ross

Louisville enjoys a wealth of arts and entertainment options that are richly breathtaking. Choosing the best of the lot is no easy task.

When the Speed Art Museum reopened to the public in 2016 following a three-year closure for renovation and expansion, visitors were amazed at the transformation. The Speed created an atmosphere of “art for all” and included events, community conversations, unique and thought-provoking exhibitions, family programming and more. Louisvillians responded with wild enthusiasm and it is no surprise that the Speed claimed a Bestie for Best Museum.

“The Speed takes a lot of pride in being one of many organizations bringing great art to Louisville, a city with such a rich cultural history,” said Steven Bowling, chief marketing officer at the Speed Art Museum. “Our mission is to invite everyone to celebrate art forever. Knowing that people in the community not only want to celebrate with us but celebrate the museum itself is a huge honor.”

Mollie Murk, Christopher Garofalo, Brylee Deuser and Brendan Miller in “Dracula.” Photo by Jonathan Roberts.

Capping off a busy 2019, “Tales from the Turf: The Kentucky Horse,” recently opened at the Speed. The exhibition takes a comprehensive look at the horse industry in Kentucky from 1825 – 1950. Most of the art is on loan from private collections across the state and has never been displayed together in one location. In December, the Speed opens “Loose Nuts: Bert Hurley’s West End Story,” which explores a fully handwritten and illustrated manuscript by Louisville artist Bert Hurley. It examines the history of life in Louisville’s African-American communities during the 1930s, when industry and entertainment in the West End thrived.

“We believe in the power of art to transform people’s lives, and we’re inspired by that belief to make the Speed a place where everyone feels like they belong,” said Bowling.

Actors Theatre sunk its creative teeth into a Bestie for Best Theatre Production with perennial favorite, “Dracula.” The always-enthralling production taps the audience’s deepest fears and celebrates the Halloween season like no other performance in Louisville. “The recognition and appreciation from the Louisville community truly means so much to us,” said Artistic Director Robert Barry Fleming. “‘Dracula’ has been haunting Louisville for nearly 30 years, and everyone who works on that production is so very proud to be part of the tradition.”

Fresh off “Dracula,” Actors Theatre is hurtling headlong into the holiday season with shows that include Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol.” For more than four decades, countless audiences have enjoyed the classic story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s redemption on Actors’ stage as part of their holiday tradition.

Actors Theatre is one of the country’s most celebrated theaters and enjoys worldwide respect in theater circles and beyond. “Actors Theatre lives in that intersection of artistic legacy and innovation,” said Fleming. “We have a world-class company of staff, guest artists, early-career talent and an engaged and passionate local audience. Outstanding theatrical storytelling? We’ve got it. Stories that are relevant and resonant to Louisville? Happening over here. World premiere plays and playwrights that the nationwide theater industry watches? Onstage this spring. Time at the theater is time well spent.”

Madison Ewing of MADS Gallery. Photo by Clay Cook.

In the eclectic and growing art gallery scene in Louisville, M.A.D.S Gallery on Bardstown Road stands out with a Bestie for its focus on the blend of art and event space it offers. M.A.D.S (Modern. Art. Design. Style) has never been just one thing, said owner Madison Ewing. What began as a spot to feature local artists quickly turned into a collaborative community venture – offering classes, lectures, events and networking space.

“We are so humbled that with all the great places in the city, M.A.D.S has left such an impression on visitors that when asked their opinion, they remembered their experience – whether it was through a private event, casual stroll or collaborative dance night,” said Ewing.

In 2020, M.A.D.S will continue a partnership with dance studio Bourbon Tango to offer a unique visual and interactive experience – presenting various classical dance events and classes. “Our schedule largely features Bourbon Tango mixed with all the great local art M.A.D.S Gallery showcases,” said Ewing.

Louisville Orchestra’s “The Order of Nature.”

A tango of another sort launched the Louisville Orchestra into a performance that landed director Teddy Abrams and the Orchestra on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” and garnered a Bestie for Best Musical Performance. Abrams and the Orchestra paired with Louisville native, My Morning Jacket front man and solo artist Jim James for a collaborative album and performance called “The Order of Nature.” The album features songs written by James and symphonic suites composed by Abrams.

“We decided that we would be super creative with the settings of every single one of the songs,” said Abrams. “It was more of an aria, like a set of songs that you might find an operatic singer singing, as opposed to a rock band out in front with the orchestra just playing long notes to fill out the chords.”

Abrams was thrilled with the enthusiastic national response to the album. “I think this is going to be a big part of the orchestra’s history,” he added. “We want to share that (music) because we think that’s a positive American story right now, and it’s important that it’s told.”

From Louisville Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” Photo by Sam English.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the holidays in Louisville without the Bestie winner for Best Dance Performance, which goes to the Louisville Ballet for its “Nutcracker” holiday spectacular. “The Brown-Forman Nutcracker” opens on Dec. 14 and runs through Dec. 22 with a limited run this year, and the ballet expects tickets to sell quickly.

“We pride ourselves on reflecting our community and telling their stories, and having our community support us means that we are on the right track,” said Robert Curran, artistic and executive director of the Louisville Ballet. “It is an honor to do the work we do, and as the only ballet company in Louisville, we have the responsibility and opportunity to bring as much varied dance as possible to our community. We get to celebrate and honor the tradition of classical ballet, but we also reinvent it through contemporary dance. Louisville Ballet cherishes the collaborative and creative process that brings artists from all disciplines together to share our stories in a place where everybody is welcome.”

If the past season of outstanding arts and entertainment is any indication, the best is yet to come for Louisville audiences in 2020. V