The Sacred Space

Jen DeLeeuw. Photo by Frankie Steele

Art Sanctuary provides a hallowed home for Louisville’s artists

By Mariah Kline

Romero Britto has said, “Art is too important not to share.” The operators of Art Sanctuary would probably concur with this statement while adding that space to make art is also too important not to share. The local 501(c)3 arts nonprofit provides an oasis for creatives, where they can rent low-cost studio spaces and find inspiration in one another.

The idea for Art Sanctuary came from Board President and Founder Lisa Frye, who launched the collective out of her home in 2003.

“I started this because all of the artists I knew were so talented but didn’t have a place to put their work 16 years ago,” says Frye. “They didn’t have a million coffee shops, and most of the places that were around didn’t have local work hanging.”

Initially, Frye would invite creators to showcase their work in different venues throughout the city, but the organization eventually landed at their permanent facility in Germantown in 2011. Here, they have given artists a place to create, showcase and collaborate. The size of rentable studio spaces range from small corners to vast rooms with the cost starting at $50 per month.

J. Cobb. Photo by Kathryn Harrington.

“We thought through what was needed and where the holes were in what this city had to offer,” says artist and Vice President of the Board Britany Baker. “Louisville just didn’t have anything that inexpensive, so we wanted to make this as affordable as possible.”

Each of the resident artists can also work in the massive common areas, and they have access to a woodshop and a plethora of tools. Photographer and board member Frankie Steele, who also serves as the chief operations officer, says the pooling of resources at Art Sanctuary has allowed him and several other artists to accomplish things they could not have done alone.

“A lot of the projects I’ve seen people do – and a lot of the shoots that I’ve done – couldn’t be done in the basement of your home,” he explains. “We have access to facilities that allow for those larger projects, and this lets people start thinking about art as a career instead of just a hobby.”

Inside the artists’ studios, you can find nearly every kind of discipline – painting, sculpture, textile work, photography and several others. Though they work in different mediums, most every resident appreciates the sense of community that comes with being at Art Sanctuary.

“Having people around you who are doing some of the same things is really helpful,” says Baker, who has a studio at Art Sanctuary. “I feel like I’m with my people. They know what you’re going through, they have the same struggles and they relate to one another in what they’re doing, how they’re doing it and why.”

James Russel May.
Photo by Frankie Steele.

“It can feel very isolating to try to navigate these things and try to ‘build the airplane in flight,’” says Jessa Mayhew, an Art Sanctuary intern, photographer and student of Savannah College of Art and Design. “Having people who understand that circle is invaluable and so is being in a space where you can uplift and move forward.”

The 3,200-square-foot modular gallery gives artists a place to showcase their work and doubles as rentable photo studio space. Art Sanctuary is also the home of Va Va Vixens, a group of burlesque performers who combine singing, dancing and comedy with aerial stunts, stripteases and acrobatics. The building’s colossal event room is the site of Vixens shows as well as weddings, theatrical performances and events for other nonprofits. Recently, a crowd of more than 450 attended Girls Rock Louisville’s annual showcase there.

Rita Cameron. Photo by Frankie Steele.

“This is the perfect partnership for us,” Frye says of working with Girls Rock. “They’re helping kids, plus they’re evolving in their art and it’s empowering them.”

Dozens of artists have come and gone through Art Sanctuary, some of whom realize that they don’t have enough time to commit to their art while some find so much success that they outgrow their space.

“I feel successful with the studios in particular when someone gets too big for us and they need to move out,” says Steele. “I know that we’ve done something good for them and helped them get to that place. This is a community that helps people through that rough intermediate stage.”

Looking ahead, the board is seeking funding to start an artist-in-residence program as well as a murals program. This summer, they’ll begin creating murals for the outside of their building, sharing the talents on the inside with the neighborhood outside.

Studio of Sabra Crockett. Photo by Kathryn Harrington.

As the visual arts scene in Louisville continues to thrive, the creators at Art Sancutary will get to welcome even more artists into their cherished community.

“It’s a sacred space,” says artist Linda Erzinger, who has rented studio space in the building for more than five years.  “I used to work at home, but there are a lot of distractions at home. Here, it’s uninterrupted. It is a sanctuary, not in the religious sense but in the sense that it’s a space to go to contemplate and find meaning and creativity.” V

To learn more about Art Sanctuary, visit art-sanctuary.org or call 502.386.7114.