Left to Right: Katya Estes, Elaina Parker, Shantay Chandler, Melissa Manzo, Joy Thompson, Alexandra Hepfinger, Yasmeen Mohammadi and Bethany Whitaker wearing designs from previous KMAC Couture shows.

By Laura Ross

Photos by Andrea Hutchinson

Styled by Liz Bingham

Assisted by Miranda McDonald

Hair by Joseph’s Salon & Spa

Makeup by Skyn Lounge

Nestled along Museum Row, a boldly painted and light-filled building stands out among the historical cast-iron facades of Main Street. Behind the doors lies a world of creativity and art unique to Louisville.

KMAC Museum – formerly known as the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft – debuted in 1981 with the intent of building interest in Kentucky’s craft heritage. Its inception led to a collection of American Folk art from around the region and later in 2001, the museum moved to its current location. KMAC Museum grew to become a contemporary art museum with three galleries on three floors covering more than 27,000 square feet for large-scale exhibitions and events. Today’s KMAC Museum offers free admission and brings together artists, contemporary art, educational programming and community outreach in a clean-cut, modern setting.

KMAC Executive Director Aldy Milliken came to the museum in 2012 from Stockholm, Sweden, where he owned a contemporary art gallery and worked throughout the international art world. “Louisville for me was a unique opportunity to explore a part of the world that was interesting,” he said. “Artists were redefining their craft and materials. I enjoyed working in a contemporary art gallery, but it was retail based. I was excited to switch to an educational base where fundamentally, we are teaching the value of art.”


1. Bri Bowers, KMAC Couture Artist Bri’s outfit: Alexis knit dress, $398, available at Circe. Long vintage 18kt Italian link chain, $5,700; short antique 18kt gold chain, $1,350; medium vintage 18kt Italian gold chain, $895; vintage diamond ring in 18kt, $5,900, available at Jordan Clines Jewelers. Shoes from Bri’s personal collection.
2. Katya Estes – Model Couture piece by Bri Bowers
3. Tiffany Woodard, KMAC Couture Artist Tiffany’s outfit: A.L.C. blouse, $345, and Mother jeans, $205, available at Circe. Cindy Borders teal and gold beaded bib necklace, $118, and antique amethyst and old mine cut diamond ring $3,700, available at Jordan Clines Jewelers.
4. Dominique Joy Thompson – Model Couture piece by Kris Pettit
5. Kris Pettit, Artist and KMAC Museum Development and Membership Associate Kris’ outfit: Jane+One top $49, available at BLU Collective. Vintage Chanel fashion pearl drop earrings, $395, available at Jordan Clines Jewelers. Other pieces from Kris’ personal collection.
6. Melissa Manzo – Model, Couture piece by Tiffany Woodard Melissa’s outfit: 28ct Kunzite and diamond ring in platinum, $7,600, available at Jordan Clines Jewelers. Couture outfit designed by Tiffany Woodard.
7. Jim Haynes – Owner of Blue Grass MOTORSPORT, Presenting Sponsor of KMAC Couture Jim’s outfit: Ledbury white twill shirt, $145; Citizens of Humanity Gage Jeans, $224; Trumbull Rhodes bowtie, $60, available at Circe. Other pieces from Jim’s personal collection.
8. Debbie Huddleston-Mitchell, KMAC Couture Event Chair Debbie’s outfit: Cindy Borders linked gemstone earrings with rainbow rhinestones and white jade drops, $78. Clothing from Debbie’s personal collection.
9. Tonya Abeln – Director of Community Relations for Churchill Downs, Featured Sponsor of KMAC Couture Tonya’s outfit: Nikibiki sequin dress, $79, available at BLU Collective. Cupcakes and Cashmere silver moto jacket, $148, available at Six Sisters Boutique. Cindy Borders white fireworks earrings, $78; Baroque white, silver and graphite pearls, $1,950; solid grey pearl strand $3,400; silver to white pearl strand, $9,500; onyx and diamond ring in 18kt, $3,950, vailable at Jordan Clines Jewelers.
10. Robert Bertrand, KMAC Couture Marketing Chair Robert’s outfit: “1897” gold coin cufflinks, $1,495, available at Jordan Clines Jewelers. All clothing from Robert’s personal collection.

Milliken laid out a plan for growth that adopted best practices, clarified the museum’s mission and built a strategic agenda. With his curatorial and education staff, Milliken has built significant relationships with artists, helping them develop their work and nurture their creativity to reach higher levels. The museum has featured works by Sarah Crowner, Elsa Hansen Oldham and Jibade Khalil Huffman, among others.

“The dynamism of a museum should evolve over the decades like KMAC has done,” he explained. “That is a testament of our strength because we aim to connect people to art and creative practice.”

“Craft” Is Not a Noun

KMAC Museum works closely with contemporary artists and staff to provide evocative exhibitions covering a diversity of mediums, including painting, drawing, woodworking, film and found objects. “The word ‘museum’ inspires me,” said Milliken. “A museum is a place for dynamic things and we’re listening and leading and redefining what that is.”

Bethany Whitaker wears a past KMAC Couture piece by Lillian Chodyniecki.

With contemporary art, he said, the artist is not focused on just one medium, leading to more creativity on a truly blank canvas. KMAC Museum nurtures its artists to create art, conversations and a following.

“Our staff is (made of) all artists or art historians themselves, and they help our visitors understand the art,” he said. “We want to listen and engage with you about what the art is saying. Every piece in this museum has meaning behind it.”

KMAC Museum focuses on the actual elements of the art as well as the finished piece. How a piece is conceived, the materials used and the inspiration coming from the artist’s mind are all elements vital to an exhibition at KMAC Museum. “Craft is always a verb for us, not a noun,” said Milliken. “It’s about the process of creating art.”

In a world of constant stimulation, Milliken and his staff work hard to provide exhibitions and events that challenge, entertain and bring in visitors daily. “We’re not going to replace Netflix,” he laughed. “But people need to go to museums and see and engage with art. As soon as someone can walk and think, they should come to a museum. That’s why we focus on families as much as the individual visitor.

“Museums around the world are sometimes becoming too focused on entertainment and that loses some of their value,” he added. “At KMAC, we can be dynamic, but we can’t be everything to everybody. We stay true to our mission and support the craft and artists. KMAC is the perfect-sized museum in today’s world. We can do international-level work with international artists and we also work with local and regional artists. We have a grass-roots, entrepreneurial attitude that spans the globe but also respects local talent.”

Robert Bertrand, Jim Haynes, Tonya Abeln and Debbie Huddleston-Mitchell.

Part of that work includes fundraising to support the museum’s mission. And, in a city full of fundraisers, KMAC Museum has cornered the market on one of the most imaginative events yet.

An Event Like No Other

KMAC Couture: Art Walks The Runway hits the social calendar for 2019 right as the fever for Derby begins to rise. The eagerly anticipated event takes place at 7 p.m. on April 20 at 715 West Main St. For the second year, the museum is extending the festivities with KMAC Couture Fashion Week, a series of events at local businesses that offer special deals and exclusive gatherings. The kickoff will be an exclusive event at Churchill Downs before the track opens for the Spring Meet. Then, throughout the week, events will crop up throughout the city with giveaways, book signings, gourmet food and cocktails, all in anticipation of the main event. (For a full listing of KMAC Couture Fashion Week events and locations, see page 76.)

KMAC Couture is a wearable art runway show that features emerging and established artists, costumers, designers and milliners all presenting couture pieces of wearable art and conceptual fashion designs. Guests at the event are encouraged to wear shades of white to offset the riot of color on the runway.

Yasmeen Mohammadi wears a past KMAC Couture piece by Wende Cudmore.

“I started this show seven years ago when I arrived from Stockholm,” said Milliken. “I’d done a bunch of fashion shows there and collaborated with different fashion designers. When I arrived in Louisville, we were in the midst of judging the Scholastic Art Awards, and I saw that we had a lot of amazing pieces, particularly from the Manual High School textile class. That gave us the idea to see what else was out there in Louisville design, and the fashion show evolved.”

Designers for KMAC Couture differ in ages, backgrounds and levels of experience. KMAC Museum recruits the artists and provides a curatorial statement that helps the artist formulate ideas. They return their big-picture ideas with samples of textiles and drawings, and a curatorial team selects the winning designs to walk the runway.

“As we always say, the art is the big idea and the craft is the process,” said Milliken. “For KMAC Couture, it’s how you give us something vital to your creative vision. It’s not about who you know but what will resonate with the community.”

Proceeds from KMAC Couture help support the museum’s educational and exhibition programming throughout the year. Artists for 2019 include Moonhe Baik, Bill Connelly, Olivia Griffin, Deji Lasisi and others. Several area art students from local schools are participating as well.

Elaina Parker wears a past KMAC Couture piece that she created.

Designers not only have the spotlight at KMAC Couture, the show experience can also spark further interest in their work and sometimes launch their careers. Frances “Frankie” Lewis – a self-taught, Louisville-based fashion designer – is a perfect example. She learned to sew in college and worked as a theater costume designer as part of her theater major at the University of Louisville. She designed for KMAC Couture in 2016 with great accalaim, and soon she will appear on the new season of Bravo’s “Project Runway” in March.

“She is a fantastic artist,” said Milliken. “At her very first show, we were all blown away. We knew she was something special. We gave her that platform, and she was able to develop from a relatively young and green artist to someone who’s now on ‘Project Runway.’ That is huge for KMAC. We have empathy for the artistic process, and we give the artist a place. Then, that becomes a voice.”

KMAC Couture not only fans the spring fashion flames, it also lends a high-fashion, big-city feel to Louisville. “Here’s the thing that’s super interesting about KMAC Couture,” added Milliken. “We are an intervention on Main Street. We block the street and have a 400-foot runway in the middle of the road. You can’t do that in New York, but you can do it here. This has become much bigger than we ever expected. KMAC Couture has become an ambassador for (KMAC Museum) across the state.”

Crafting the Science Behind the Art

In a city strewn with signature arts events, Milliken and his staff work to keep their momentum going throughout the year once the KMAC Couture event wraps. He likens the event to a microcosm of the museum world.

Alexandra Hepfinger wears a past KMAC Couture piece by Elizabeth Heustis and Cindy Borders party glitter earrings with abalone, bone and blue-green glitter, $68.

“This specifically represents what a museum does. It’s inherent in our DNA,” he explained. “This (event) is authentically about creativity – from the models to the fashion and the designs. It’s educational and involves everyone. We look for creativity in the community, we look for artists, we mentor and educate artists and they show us an incredible evening with these designs they’ve worked on all year.”

Milliken asserts that this is how the museum approaches its yearly programming and exhibitions as well. He explains that the process evolves the craft and the craft produces the art. What visitors see makes them inquisitive and creates conversations.

“Contemporary art engages you, and you learn about yourself,” he said. “You have a variety of new experiences. If we’re not doing something different and creative, we’re not doing our job right,” Milliken added. “We always articulate the best creative platform and look across the globe for comparisons. I’m aware of what is going on in Paris, London and Copenhagen. That makes me more competitive and helps me feed off that creativity. We have that here in Louisville. How lucky is that? It’s an extraordinary time to be in the arts in Louisville.” V

KMAC Couture: Art Walks the Runway takes place April 20. Pre-show cocktail hour begins at 7 p.m. and runway show begins at 8:30 p.m. After-party immediately following runway show. Tickets are $100-$360 and can be purchased at kmacmuseum.org.

Above Right: Shantay Chandler wears a past KMAC Couture piece by Brent Drew-Wolack.

KMAC Couture Fashion Week

Come share the excitement of KMAC Couture “Art Walks the Runway” by joining the museum’s partners for KMAC Couture Fashion Week at these fabulous events.

For more information and to purchase tickets for the signature event, on KMAC Couture: Art Walks the Runway, on Saturday, April 20, visit kmacmuseum.org.

April 14

Churchill Downs Fashion Week Kickoff Party

For KMAC Couture ticket holders only

12 to 4 p.m.

Churchill Downs, 700 Central Ave.

Featuring KMAC Museum’s special guest, Jordan Clines Jewelers-Custom, Estate and Fine Jewelry.

Guests will enjoy an afternoon at the track with refreshments in a stunning location.

April 16

Blu Collective

5 to 7 p.m.

12003 Shelbyville Road, Suite 104

Guests will enjoy 20 percent off and a free gift of LOVENOX Scents, light bites and signature pink cocktails.

April 16

Circe and The Beauty Bar at Circe-Sloan Winters

5 to 8 p.m.

3642 Brownsboro Road, #101

Guests will enjoy special event pricing, light bites and cocktails.

April 17

Physicians Center For Beauty

5 to 8 p.m.

224 Chenoweth Lane

Guests will enjoy special event pricing, light bites and cocktails.

April 17

RJE Interiors

4 to 8 p.m.

732 W. Main St.

Stop by RJE for drinks, appetizers and the chance to see the latest trends in modern workplace design.

April 18

Six Sisters

12 to 4 p.m.

804 E. Market St.

Guests will receive 20 percent off and a free tote bag with purchase, light bites and champagne cocktails.

April 18

Rabbit Hole Distillery

6 to 9 p.m.

711 E. Jefferson St.

Guests will enjoy complimentary food from Wiltshire Pantry; tours of the distillery; cash bar featuring Rabbit Hole cocktails while enjoying a perfect view of downtown Louisville; and a unique artistry experience highlighting several artistic mediums ranging from live art, culinary demonstrations, a silent disco and a showcase of beautiful art installations.

April 18

SKYN Lounge and Cindy Borders Jewelry

5 to 8 p.m.

227 Chenoweth Lane

Guests will enjoy free swag bag of goodies with purchase, 15 percent off Cindy Borders Jewelry, light bites and cocktails.

April 19

Pappy & Company with Chenault James

5 to 8 p.m.

843 E. Market St.

Guests will enjoy 15 percent off and a free gift with purchase, light bites and cocktails.

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