A New Trifecta For The Arts

Statue-grainYou’ve heard its name. Its presence in the Greater Louisville community is nearly unparalleled, its ubiquity matched in strength by its mission. The Fund for the Arts is a historic Louisville nonprofit; however, far too few members of the community truly understand its impact and, moreover, its significance. Fund for the Arts not only financially supports its cultural partners – what it is perhaps most known for – but it also is working harder than ever to bring the arts to those who may not experience it otherwise.

Furthermore, in addition to its year-round day-to-day operations, the Fund is looking ahead specifically to April 30 for its grandest event yet: the inaugural Awards in the Arts.

The Fund for the Arts is the country’s oldest united arts fund, having been established in 1949 by Louisville Mayor Charles Farnsley. It has a long history of working to fund-raise to support the city’s myriad of arts institutions and has indeed been largely responsible for the prosperity of Louisville’s robust arts community. Last year alone, it raised $8,015,600 for arts in the region. However, the Fund is looking beyond simply fundraising for the arts as Eric Gurevich, the Fund for the Arts communications and engagement manager, describes, “The model has been for years how can the community help the arts – but that’s changing dramatically to how can we best serve the community through the arts.”

LaNitaWhat that means is that the Fund is indeed looking to continue fundraising, but it is also striving to expand arts outreach to the Louisville community and beyond. “Two of our biggest priorities since Christen Boone, our CEO, came on were how do we increase access to the arts for every member of the community – for every kid, every businessperson, every senior,” Gurevich relates. “How do we bring the arts to them?”

While part of that is bringing the arts directly into schools, offices and healthcare facilities, it also involves a staggering amount of educational programs. “Arts in education is genuinely building 21st century skills – creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication,” Gurevich explains of the importance of the Fund’s several education outreach programs. The 5×5 program, for example, works to ensure that a student has at least five arts/cultural experiences by the completion of fifth grade. In 2015, the Fund worked with 60 JCPS schools on 290 projects, providing 49,196 arts experiences. 100 percent of these schools consequently reported seeing overall score gains in report card data.

In addition to its fundraising and education efforts, the Fund has also been hard at work on Awards in the Arts, which will take place April 30 at Churchill Downs on Opening Night. It will be the first event in the newly renovated Stakes Room and the first event, other than Oaks and Derby, to see a sold-out Stakes Room. The event is a three-way collaboration between the Fund for the Arts, Churchill Downs and the Jennifer Lawrence Foundation, and, as Fund for the Arts Corporate Relations Director Abby Shue details, this synergetic triumvirate is thanks to, at least partially, absolutely perfect timing.

“We’ve had a long partnership with Churchill Downs, and they’ve actually been supporting some of our education work in schools near the racetrack,” Shue explains. “But they have a new director of community relations – Lauren DePaso – and she really saw possibilities more broadly to bring an engagement piece, to bring the arts to the track. So it’s been a long conversation where we realized we were trying to spread access to the arts and they were trying to make opening night have little bit more of a splash. So it really was the perfect timing.”

RCDC2Meanwhile, the Jennifer Lawrence Foundation, led by Meredith Lawrence, was seeking to increase its footprint in the community, and as Jennifer Lawrence herself was a student of Walden Theatre, the Fund and this event in particular seemed to be a perfect match for that organization as well.

Indeed, Shue emphasizes that, although the Fund had long been wanting to hold an event like this, it never seemed to be able to come to fruition. But thanks to these new partners, it’s finally happening – and in the grandest way possible. “We were committed to not being another long awards ceremony in Louisville, and so once we found the Churchill piece and the Jennifer Lawrence piece, we were like, ‘This is how we can make it happen, and these are the right partners to work with,’” Shue enthuses.

The night itself will, of course, feature the presentation of the six Awards in the Arts, but for guests, it will also be a true exploration of the arts and a tour of some of the city’s top arts organizations. “It’s $10 per ticket, and you’re getting a genuine arts experience at every turn,” Gurevich affirms. “It’s going to be pop-up performances. It’s going to be live painting, live music, aerial artists. So you’re going to the track, but you’re also going to experience the arts.”

Shue meanwhile highlights the fact that the Awards in the Arts directly speak to the Fund’s current outreach efforts in bringing the Arts to those who may not otherwise experience them. “Yes, we want people to participate by going to museums and going to theaters, but the reality is, even looking at our donor base of 20,000 people, that’s not for everyone,” she admits. “So it’s a big shift of how do we take arts into schools, into community centers, into healthcare facilities and aging-care facilities, and this night is an extension of that in a major way.”

LaNitaDanceGurevich is especially excited about the recognition the awarded artists will receive at the event. “This is an opportunity to raise awareness and funds absolutely, but it is also a way to celebrate these artists on a huge scale,” he insists. And nothing proved how truly needed this event was more than the call for nominations for the awards themselves. The Fund had six categories and received a total of 120 nominations, making the selection process astoundingly difficult. However, Shue and Gurevich agree that the Fund could not be prouder or more honored to recognize the winning individuals and organizations.

Due to its constant providing of world-class cultural events and its efforts to bring the arts to underserved communities, The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts is the recipient of The Republic Bank Foundation Arts Impact Award. The Kentucky Center is so much more than just a venue for the arts, and the Fund is proud to highlight the Center’s exceptional impact on the community.

Meanwhile, Teddy Abrams, music director of the Louisville Orchestra, is the recipient of The Bittners Arts Innovation Award. Abrams’ undeniable creativity and collaborative spirit made him a prime candidate for the award, as does the fact that he has truly transformed the Orchestra since he came on board less than three seasons ago.

Louisville’s leading child-friendly theatre company, StageOne Family Theatre, is the recipient of The Yum! Brands Foundation Arts Education Award. Over its nearly 70-year history, it has served over three million children and helped introduce them to the magic of the arts. Moreover, it has illustrated how effectively the arts, and more specifically theatre, can be used as an educational tool.

winnersThanks to his outstanding contribution to Louisville arts via his magnificent sculpture work, Edward Hamilton is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award. Hamilton’s work can be seen across the city with perhaps one of his most notable works being the Abraham Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park. Hamilton is a nationally renowned artist and spends much of his time striving to give back to his hometown of Louisville.

Finally, Louisville’s own hip-hop artist Jecorey “1200” Arthur is the recipient of The University of Louisville Emerging Leader in the Arts Award. A classically trained musician who performs as a rapper under the name 1200, Arthur is a music teacher at Hite Elementary School and a true advocate for the community, particularly the West End of Louisville.

There is a sixth award, the National Award in the Arts – which recognizes outstanding achievement in Louisville and on a national scale – and the winner will be announced on the night of the event. Winners will take home a one-of-a-kind statue by local sculptor Mike McCarthy as well as a cash grant from Fund for the Arts.

Without question, this night and the institution of these awards will only add to Fund for the Arts’ unparalleled efforts in the city. Shue relates that from the very beginning, Fund for the Arts has sought to make the arts a preeminent piece of Louisville culture: “Mayor Farnsley’s vision in 1949 was every city has those things that define it, that make it different, that make it a place businesses will want to locate, where people will want to move – and his thought was that for Louisville, that’s the arts.” Thanks to its fundraising, education outreach and now artist recognition, it is quite clear that Farnsley’s vision has indeed become a reality. VT