The State of the Arts


Now more than ever, Fund for the Arts is changing the cultural landscape of Louisville

By Laura Ross

Photos by Kathryn Harrington

Christen Boone, president and CEO of Fund for the Arts, can barely contain her excitement. “Louisville has a very rich history of incredible support for our arts and culture,” she said. “We’ve had generations of people who have experienced arts and culture in their schools and neighborhoods, and you have generations that believe in the power of the arts to invigorate this community.”

As Fund for the Arts moves into its 70th year in Louisville, and long-time donors and corporations shift priorities and evolve with the times, it might seem like Louisvillians would become complacent in giving.

Not so, said Boone. In fact, Fund for the Arts recently announced the results of its 2018 campaign, which showed record highs in the number of grants made and organizations, schools and individual artists and counties served. 

The state of the arts in Louisville is good, if not great.

Christen Boone and Tammy York Day.

Fund for the Arts was founded as a regional nonprofit with the mission to maximize and drive economic development, education and quality of life through the arts in the community.

“The Fund for the Arts has helped our community be a leading city of arts and culture,” said Boone. “It is how we sell ourselves as a community, how we attract talent and businesses and visitors. We have such a rich environment of organizations and artists in Louisville that we are excited to celebrate, feature, learn from and be entertained and challenged (by).”   

Boone and her team, along with the leadership of campaign chair Tammy York Day – president and CEO of the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council and co-founder of the Unbridled Charitable Foundation – broke records with their 2018 campaign. Fund for the Arts raised $8.6 million, plus an additional $800,000 pledged for future campaigns.

This allowed for 685 grants compared to 650 in 2017 and 600 in 2016. A staggering jump in organizations served came with 115 groups versus 63 in 2017 and 35 in 2016. Additionally, 257 schools were supported compared to 251 the previous year and 211 in 2016. The Fund expanded its grant area as well, with 64 counties served, which was a significant increase over 29 counties in 2016. Among the 21 organizations that applied for sustaining impact grants, there was a collective increase of $569,013 in contributed income from last year to this year.

“One thing that we should be proud of is that the united arts campaign for Louisville consistently has the highest per capita united arts giving levels in the nation,” said Boone.

Alaina Kai and Cadence Diggs in “Kids they Say the Darndest Things” by Safietou Gueve, 2018 New Voices Festival.

For a city of Louisville’s size, that is paramount. “The Fund for the Arts per capita is $7.16, more than three times the national average of $2.61,” Boone said.

“The Fund is helping usher in an exciting era of unique, impactful and accessible arts culture,” said Tammy York Day, 2018 Fund for the Arts campaign chair. “And by supporting these efforts, we advance our schools, economy and region as a whole.”

Boone is thankful for the energy and support that York Day provided to Fund for the Arts during the campaign. “Her leadership brought an incredible amount of energy, innovation and an outside-the-box approach,” said Boone. “She challenged us to think of how Louisville not just takes a step forward, but (consider) how can Louisville leap and take giant steps.”

Top donors to the 2018 campaign included Humana/Humana Foundation and associates, Brown-Forman, Louisville Metro Government and employees, Kosair Charities, Yum! Brands, Inc., LG&E and KU Energy Foundation and LG&E and KU Energy/IBEW Local 2100, Woodford Reserve, Churchill Downs and employees, Norton Healthcare and employees and Jefferson County Public Schools’ employees. Nearly 20,000 donors invested in the Fund for the Arts in 2018.

Boone believes that in addition to a long community tradition of supporting the arts, the community took note of national discussions and controversies surrounding the possible defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources of arts funding that were challenged. “It got people’s attention,” said Boone. “It brought home the concept that the arts are not a ‘nice to have’ but a ‘must have’ in our culture. We can’t take that for granted.

“What we find,” she added, “is that people want to be a part of giving and active communities, and they want to be sure that there are opportunities for people from every neighborhood to be able to experience the arts and create and participate in the arts themselves.”

A prime example of the on-the-ground benefit is through grants to organizations like Actors Theatre. “The Fund for the Arts is our largest donor, and we simply could not do what we do without their support,” said Elizabeth Greenfield, public relations and communications manager at Actors Theatre. “Special performances of our productions, like the sensory-friendly performance of ‘Little Bunny Foo Foo,’ a world premiere play by Anne Washburn with music from Tony Award-winner Dave Malloy, and this season’s first sensory-friendly performance of Fifth Third’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ are made possible by this funding.”

A performance at Louisville Central Community Center.

Greenfield also pointed to the The New Voices Young Playwrights Festival, which provides middle and high school students with fully-produced productions performed, directed and designed by members of the Professional Training Company. “Grants from the Fund support our in-school residency programs, like New Voices Playwriting Residencies,” said Greenfield. “Last season, our teaching artists hosted about 20 residencies for over 500 students, which translated to nearly 200 combined hours in the classroom.”

Across town at the Louisville Central Community Centers, Erica Bledsaw works to expand arts and youth education programs for young people in the Russell neighborhood and other surrounding inner-city areas.

“The Fund for the Arts is such a huge asset and provides the funding necessary to keep the arts alive,” said Bledsaw, manager of youth education and fine arts at Louisville Central Community Centers. “The funding helped us produce a Broadway revue that was held at the Clifton Center in April. The group is called The Youth Repertory Theater Troupe of Louisville and our music teachers were contract artists provided to us by Kosair Kids and the Louisville Youth Choir.”

Grants from Fund for the Arts also reach fledgling writers at Sarabande Books, a Louisville-based literary publisher. Kristen Miller, editor and director of educational programming at Sarabande Books, pointed to a specific program for writers who might otherwise never see their stories published. “Sarabande Writing Labs exist to cultivate writers and extend a platform to those whose voices too often go unheard,” she explained. “We work with refugees, survivors of abuse, justice-involved youth and those living with homelessness, addiction and disability. Their voices are so vital and necessary, and we strive to promote their writing as widely as possible. Thanks to the Emerging Leader in the Arts Award, I’ve been given the chance to raise awareness about these writers and their work to thousands more in our community.”

The Field Mice in “Little Bunny Foo Foo.”  Photo by Bill Brymer.

The outreach to such a wide berth of various arts organizations is part of a paradigm shift that Fund for the Arts adopted this past year from traditional fundraising efforts to a more impact-focused model. By changing the focus and method of its grantmaking, the Fund was able to support a larger number of newer, broader groups and serve a wider range of the community, which in turn, has bolstered the entire arts sector. This includes large-scale collaborative initiatives, like the Cultural Pass, which partners family-friendly events and activities with 48 different museums, historical sites and other arts organizations in several counties surrounding Louisville.

It’s all a part of driving Imagine Greater Louisville 2020, the community’s plan for transforming the Greater Louisville region through the creative power of arts and culture. “This is a cultural plan built not on the needs for the arts, but on the needs of this community and how you can use the unique strengths of our arts and culture landscape to help transform and advance our community as a whole,” said Boone. “When you include arts and culture in the planning process, you can truly bring unique and powerful solutions to many of our community’s challenges.”

Imagine Greater Louisville 2020 resulted from feedback from nearly 5,000 residents of the region, provided by public meetings, interviews and surveys. In February, Fund for the Arts announced a regional call for arts and culture proposals to activate the plan. In late July, the Fund announced the first recipients of the Imagine Greater Louisville 2020 grants.

Grants were awarded to 10 artists and groups and included diverse organizations such as Kentucky Shakespeare’s Shakespeare Tour, the Louisville Youth Orchestra’s NouLou&YOUth program, the Bullitt County Arts Council’s Art Reach project and the Historical Society of Harrison County’s jazz concert in Corydon Square among others.

Boone sees the results of the 2018 Fund for the Arts campaign as a huge victory for arts in the region. “Personally, I am most excited when I see so many organizations aligned around the priority to increase arts impact for families. When we have artists and organizations that are bringing their creative genius to bear for others, it’s motivating and energizing to see that.”

President and CEO of Fund for the Arts Christen Boone.

And Boone is ready to keep going. “We have great momentum for 2019,” she said. “As we continue to integrate the arts into our lives, we also want to elevate Louisville as a leading force in the arts. It’s imperative that we tell our story and attract talent and business and engage people in the creative sector. It’s important to encourage our civic and corporate leaders to think about what is next for Louisville – that is the focus moving forward. The power of the arts truly impacts our community.” VT