The Speed Art Museum’s campaign to support its mission to invite everyone to celebrate art forever
By Liz Bingham
As the first Saturday in March draws near, the typical anticipation and excitement of the Speed Art Museum’s Annual Speed Ball are unfortunately not with us this year in its usual form as the pandemic continues to hinder our ability to gather together safely. However, our community’s love and appreciation for the Speed and all of its many contributions to our city continue to support its mission of inviting everyone to celebrate art forever. This year, the traditional large, seated dinner followed by a black tie ball has been reimagined as the campaign, “Keep the Ball Rolling.” It is a revival of a campaign from the 1990s, the only other time the Speed Ball was unable to be held in-person due to a building renovation. With this in mind, before we share the details of the 2021 campaign, here is a bit of Speed Ball history you might not already know.
According to Abby Shue, Deputy Director, External Relations & Advancement at the Speed Art Museum, the Speed Ball was started in the early 1970s by a group of Speed volunteers called “The Alliance” to raise funds to support the mission of the museum. The volunteers’ involvement has continued since and has been the key to maintaining and growing the Speed’s world-class exhibitions, community programs, and education and outreach work. Shue shared, “In recent years, the ball has become the single biggest contributor to our mission, so it accounts for over 10% of the Speed’s overall operating revenue and is incredibly significant for our ability to fulfill our mission every year.”
Part of the annual support includes the appointment of Speed Ball Co-Chairs, who this year are Missy and Jim Allen, and Lopa and Rishabh Mehrotra, two couples who are very involved philanthropically in our community and long-time supporters of the Speed. “Our Co-Chairs this year have built a strong committee of people who are excited to help us tackle what the ball should look like in this unusual year. They have brought a ton of creative ideas and bold thinking to what that can be,” said Shue. “We can’t emphasize enough how much it means that they were willing to chair this huge in-person event in a year when they knew it couldn’t be that and that it was going to look really different.”
We had the opportunity to speak to the Allens and the Mehrotras for an inside look at what it means to them to be Co-Chairs during the unusual year of 2021. Rishabh Mehrotra shared, “It’s a real honor to be asked and it’s a responsibility that we are excited to take on and contribute to during these turbulent times. Lopa Mehrotra continued, “It’s such a privilege to be able to hold up this small beacon for hope, healing and joy for our city through the visual arts in this really unforgettable year. My parents gave me such a love for the performing arts and to be able to hold a candle for the visual arts during this time feels like it’s coming full circle and making a contribution to the future.” Jim and Missy Allen commented, “In some ways, we look at it as a special opportunity to co-chair this year because you want to do it when you feel like you’re needed the most and this might be that year when the need is the greatest. We’re trying to look at it as a glass half full, not half empty, and to use this very unique set of circumstances to showcase what the Speed means to the community in a more intimate setting apart from the large format of the ball.”
While speaking to the Co-Chairs and Shue about the annual Speed Ball, we can’t help but dive deeper into what makes the Speed Ball so special compared to other charitable events? Shue replied, “In a year when we have the ball in-person, it’s a rare opportunity for people to have an elegant evening where they’re surrounded by art and can have dinner in the gallery. We don’t have an auction at the ball, so once you’re there, you can just enjoy the beautiful evening, the museum and connect with other people which sets us apart from the model of other fundraising events,” said Shue.
Rishabh Mehrotra shared a favorite memory from the Speed Ball, “probably from fourteen years ago. Lopa wore a gorgeous sari and we pulled friends together, both old and new, for an Indian dance called the bhangra while the American soul music was playing.” Shue shared, “The Speed Ball holds a significant place for me, both personally and professionally. The 2018 ball was my first date with my now husband, Oliver Roe. The 2019 ball was when Stephen Reily publicly announced my hire to the Speed team so it was really important for me two years in a row for very different reasons that I never could have imagined.”
This year will certainly be different from years past, but the Speed does still have some exciting things in store for virtual guests. Shue said, “Of course we can’t let the first Saturday in March go by without a celebration of some sort!” The Speed will host a “Toast to the Speed” on March 6 at 7 pm that will feature a visit from Belgian artist, Isabelle de Borchgrave who currently has an exhibition at the Speed titled “Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper” and a live performance from musician Ben Folds! “What’s special is the virtual toast at 7 pm will be open to the entire community to attend,” said Shue.
Regarding the toast, Lopa Rishabh commented, “Opening the toast to be free to the public is such a beautiful expression of our mission to invite everyone to celebrate art forever. I’m proud that, in this year of asking, we’re also able to share so much. This is a really rare opportunity to blow our attendance out of the water that we may never see again and what a joyful light to bring into this very odd time.”
As the most significant fundraiser for the Speed, the Keep the Ball Rolling campaign will enable the museum to invite everyone through free Sundays at the museum, free family memberships to anyone whom cost is a barrier to entry through the Speed for All program, free admission to frontline healthcare workers through June 2021 and engagement in artist-in-residence and community partners in the Russell neighborhood. The celebration of art can continue through the presentation of world-class exhibitions such as “Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper,” “Wolfgang Buttress: Blossom,” and “Collecting – A Love Story: Glass from the Adelle and Leonard Leight Collection.” Kentucky arts and culture are highlighted through exhibitions such as “Shaker Commonwealth” and Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s “The Unforeseen Wilderness.” They also launched a new digital art-education program, “I See, I Think, I Make” to support teachers and students who are working from home and recently served as a Satellite Screen for the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
“The Speed has a large role as the oldest and largest art museum in the state of Kentucky,” said Shue. “We’re constantly working to fulfill our mission to invite everyone to celebrate art forever and we know that museums play a really important role in connecting people to each other, to art and to the community. Artists have a way of allowing our guests to better understand themselves and the world around them and to look at contemporary events and history all in a different light.”
Jim Allen added, “There’s only one Speed Museum. It is Kentucky’s art museum, it is the art museum of the region. There’s so much history and such a great legacy of support and commitment to it, so it has a unique standing in that regard. It is one of Louisville and the region’s prominent institutions and is a wonderful asset to the community and the commonwealth. It’s important that we continue to support it and what it means to the community not only from a cultural standpoint but also what it does for the community in terms of standing. It elevates the stature of Louisville by having a museum of that caliber. It’s something we’ve always felt is a cornerstone of the community.”
So what is the future of the Speed Museum, you ask? Shue shared, “In 2021, in addition to the upcoming exhibitions, we are able to launch a paid internship program for the first time, which helps us to foster the next generation and bring diverse perspectives and voices into future museum leadership which is exciting. We’ve done so much adapting and pivoting and figuring out how to do what we did really well in-person in a digital format in the last year. This year, we expect to figure out what the hybrid of that will look like. We’re certainly hoping that by the end of the year we’ll be able to ease into some in-person events again at the museum, while also knowing that there’s this new demand and appreciation for the different ways we’ve been able to do events virtually.”
Lopa Mehrotra added, “Rishabh and I are most excited about the possibility of more inclusion, friends for the Speed and access for all. We’re hoping that, in the future, we see art that reflects even more of our community and society, that brings us together and creates more understanding of each other. And for me, a museum where everyone feels welcome and leaves the museum feeling inspired.”
The Speed Art Museum
2035 South Third St.
Louisville, KY 40208