KyCAD’s Purchase Of The Speed Mansion Brings Creativity Full Circle
By Laura Ross
Photos by Kathryn Harrington
The merits of a cup of coffee should not be discounted.
About a month ago, KyCAD president Moira Scott Payne and founder and chancellor Churchill Davenport took a morning walk down Ormsby Lane in Old Louisville for a staff coffee run to North Lime Coffee & Doughnuts. It’s a normal routine filled with discussions on work, life and how to make their efforts to fully launch KyCAD a success.
A nagging problem for KyCAD was finding a permanent home for the fledgling independent arts college. As they walked, they came upon a familiar home of another sort, the Speed Mansion at 505 W. Ormsby Ave. There was a “For Sale” sign out front.
“I’m an instinctive person,” said Davenport. “It was kind of like meeting the person you’re going to marry for the first time and you think, ‘What’s going on here?’ It’s magical. We knew we had to do this.”
Payne smiled broadly, “We had to be there. We spotted it and practically jumped the fence to take a look.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Literally.
A whirlwind of negotiating, planning and, no doubt, several more cups of coffee ensued. KyCAD successfully acquired the landmark 16,700 square-foot Speed Mansion to serve as its permanent home. KyCAD will begin moving in this month.
The school’s ambition is to create a world-class college of art and design. The Speed Mansion is well suited to serve as the transformative cornerstone for a prominent urban campus.
Payne is thrilled to have a home for the independent arts college. “This beautiful building will be a place of creativity and learning,” she said. “KyCAD will have a wonderful base for the research-focused, entrepreneurial art college we are building.”
She added that the location is strategic given its proximity to Central Park, the Filson Historical Society and the Speed Art Museum. “The culturally diverse Old Louisville community is a special place that has a long history of supporting the arts. Music, dance and theater are routinely supported by this active neighborhood.”
Davenport founded KyCAD in 2009. “Louisville is the perfect town for an arts school,” he said. “Everyone I talked with was as enthusiastic as I was. We did studies, we conducted research and it was clear that it was exactly the right place and time for an independent college of art and design.”
Louisville is no stranger to its support of the arts. A late 2017 economic impact study, Arts & Economic Prosperity 5, conducted by Americans for the Arts, found that Greater Louisville’s nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $462.5 million in annual economic activity, supporting 17,529 full-time equivalent jobs and generating $21,413,000 in local and state government revenues.
Davenport stressed that there is a vast difference between an arts college and an art department in a larger university setting. “(The former is) totally focused on the arts. You experience art every day. Everyone thinks like an artist. It’s an entire culture and identity that goes very deep.”
“We build a holistic experience,” added Payne, who is working on KyCAD’s state licensure and accreditation. “Art colleges create an experience for students that incorporates their general education requirements while focusing on art that has meaning. You develop and understand the importance of the humanities to the arts and encourage creativity across all disciplines.”
After being hosted for eight years by Spalding University, KyCAD decided in April to separate and pursue independent accreditation, a move that accelerated the need for a new base of operations. KyCAD had been searching for new space for the past year to accommodate its growth.
Payne joined KyCAD in 2017 from a position as provost and vice president of academic affairs for Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. She’s actively reaching out to other universities, schools and even businesses to build KyCAD. She sees it not as a competition but a collaboration. “Everyone has been very welcoming. The stronger we all are together, the better we are,” she said. “There are a lot of small industries and companies we’d like to work with alongside our faculty. (We want) to create an interdisciplinary and holistic curriculum that addresses real issues and needs while focusing on a creative base that encourages innovative thinking.”
She added, “We want to say, ‘Yes, you will get a job if you come to art school. Yes, you will have communication skills, digital skills, digital literacies.’ Cultural conversations are important to learn. How do we speak each other’s languages, whether you’re a biology student or an art student? Each have different goals and pathways, but they do overlap. We want creativity to bring that together.”
While commonly known as the Speed Mansion, the sprawling space that KyCAD will soon call home was built and first occupied by Dexter Belknap in 1885. Eight years later, James Breckinridge “J.B.” Speed, a successful businessman, philanthropist and art collector, purchased the property.
In 1906, J.B. Speed married his second wife, Harriet “Hattie” Bishop, a concert pianist, humanitarian and music teacher. Although J.B. died just six years later, Hattie Speed continued to live, teach and perform in the home for decades, adding a recital hall at the rear of the property in 1916. The mansion later housed the Louisville Academy of Music in the 1950s and ’60s, and the Louisville Youth Orchestra was formed there. In 1925, she established the J.B. Speed Memorial Museum (now the Speed Art Museum) in honor of her late husband and his devotion to art.
For the last 30 years, the 48-room mansion housed the law practice of Larry Franklin. Franklin passed away earlier this year, but to honor his legacy, KyCAD will create a scholarship in Franklin’s name.
“It’s serendipitous to be here,” said Davenport. “The Speed family focused on making Louisville a vibrant place through their belief and patronage of science, arts and education. Hattie Bishop Speed understood that everyone deserves access to arts, music and community. We hope she’d be pleased to see KyCAD in her home.”
The institution will continue to use its current space at 849 S. Third St., which includes its 849 Gallery, classrooms, event space and office space. Classes will be held in both buildings, but the open layout and concrete floors of the 849 Building are more suitable for sculpture, painting, installation and other activities. Administrative offices, design space, studios and other uses are envisioned for the mansion. Renovation to the Speed mansion will begin once KyCAD is settled in the space.
“We’ll develop spaces for students to create their work, but we will be good stewards of the historical aspect of the building,” said Scott-Payne. “The story and history of the building will foster creativity and a sense of coming into a space that is beautiful and cared for. We want our students to feel the same way.”
KyCAD is working on building its student and faculty base through several upcoming events and programs. Licensure should take less than a year to accomplish.
“Louisville is the right size and has the right attitude and respect for the arts,” said Davenport. “Louisville’s leaders are inspiring and full of ambition for what we can achieve nationally. KyCAD wants to raise that bar for visual arts.”
The entire staff of KyCAD is pushing forward. “Having the new space will create the dynamics and conversations that are so important to our story,” said Scott-Payne. “It was a most fortuitous walk for coffee that day. We are ready to make our story real.” VT
KyCAD Upcoming Events
The Future Is Now – July 27-Aug. 2
Five area high school students are paired with professional artist mentors for a six-week course of instruction, followed by a public exhibition of the art created.
A partnership between KyCAD and Louisville Visual Art
Exhibition opens 5-7 p.m. July 27 and runs through Aug. 2
Closing reception 5:30-7:30 p.m. Aug. 7
Merton Among Us: The Living Legacy of Thomas Merton – Oct. 5-Jan. 18
Multimedia exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passing of Thomas Merton, featuring work inspired by the lasting impact of the legendary Trappist monk, author and theologian who worked to improve understanding among people of different faiths.
Artworks and texts by seven artists and seven writers, all with local ties.
In collaboration with the Thomas Merton Center
KyCAD Gala 2018 – Sept. 27
KyCAD’s annual fundraising event, which includes dinner, cocktails, art, music and more. The 2018 Gala honors the Rev. Al Shands and his Great Meadows Foundation
Speed Art Museum
2035 S. Third St.
KyCAD collaborations with Orchestra and Ballet
KyCAD is collaborating with the Louisville Orchestra and the Louisville Ballet, exploring how the performing, visual, digital and time-based disciplines meet.
Conductor Teddy Abrams and the Louisville Orchestra are partnering with KyCAD and working with regional, national and internationally-acclaimed artists and Louisville-based students to create time-based works that build upon, interpret or reimagine classic orchestral works. Tickets for two events are already on sale at louisvilleorchestra.org/concert/classics-art-music/
Coffee: Art + Music at 11 a.m. on Jan. 25
Classics: Art + Music at 8 p.m. on Jan. 26
Robert Curran, producing and artistic director for the Louisville Ballet, is working with KyCAD for the ballet’s Choreographers’ Showcase program, where KyCAD will work with choreographers to create and construct environments for the dance. More information about the showcase, scheduled for Jan. 31-Feb. 3, is available at louisvilleballet.org/romance