The Art Center of the Bluegrass has been approved to receive an American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to help the arts and cultural sector recover from the pandemic. The Art Center has been recommended to receive $50,000, payable over two years.
“Our nation’s arts sector has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Rescue Plan funding will help arts organizations, such as the Art Center of the Bluegrass, rebuild and reopen,” said Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, chair of the NEA. “The arts are crucial in helping America’s communities heal, unite, and inspire, as well as essential to our nation’s economic recovery.” In total, the NEA will award grants totaling $57,750,000 to 567 arts organizations in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC.
Art Center Executive Director Niki Kinkade says the organization continues to feel the impact of COVID-19. “The pandemic has tested our creativity and flexibility, but it has also reaffirmed the value we bring to the community and the importance of our programs,” says Kinkade. “We have been able to successfully adapt our programs to the new realities and challenges of pandemic life, embracing online exhibits, hybrid programming (such as small in-person classes and Zoom workshops), and virtual field trips.”
Kinkade explains that revenue from classes, building rentals, and art sales typically makes up nearly 50% of the Art Center’s budget, but since the start of the pandemic, programming revenue has shrunk to half what it was in a normal year. “Our primary financial goal for the coming year is to bring those revenue numbers back up to pre-pandemic levels,” says Kinkade. “In order to do that, however, we recognized that we needed a full-time staff person dedicated to creating and managing those programs.”
In the spring of 2020, when the physical building was closed to the public, the Art Center was forced to lay off two full-time staff members, including their Program Director. “In consultation with our Board of Directors, we decided it was now time to re-hire that position,” says Kinkade. The emergency grant from the NEA will subsidize the Program Director’s salary over a two-year period, allowing time for the organizational budget to grow to sustain the position into the future.
Program Director Leigh Jefferson is responsible for developing and coordinating the Art Center’s classes, workshops, and special events. She also manages building rentals and the Art Center’s field trip program. “We are heading into 2022 with a wide array of new programs and events,” says Jefferson.
First up in the new year are a slate of programs related to the Art Center’s winter exhibit, Appalachia from the Inside: Celebrating Kentucky’s Appalachian Art and Culture. Hands-on classes for children include a six-week children’s visual arts class on the art of Appalachia, a children’s dulcimer workshop, an adult painting workshop, and a hand-weaving workshop for adults. The Art Center is also hosting an seven-week series of arts appreciation lectures related to the exhibit. Guest presenters include author Silas House, KY poet laureate Crystal Wilkinson, and musician Mitch Barrett. In February, the Art Center will host a free book club discussion of “Hill Women” by Cassie Chambers. The author will join the conversation via Zoom. On February 26th, the Danville Dulcimer group will perform an Appalachian themed concert. For a full list of exhibit-related programs this winter, see the Art Center website.
The Art Center will also welcome over 1,500 students from throughout Central Kentucky for free field trips to the Appalachia exhibit. Jefferson says, “It is exciting to work with teachers to schedule these field trips. Providing educational opportunities for students beyond the classroom is an important component of the Art Center’s mission. We are coordinating with each teacher to build a personalized educational experience. Some students will visit the exhibit in person, while others will participate virtually.”
Looking ahead to the spring, the Art Center will debut a new poetry event, Poetry: Connected, that will be hosted in conjunction with an exhibit by artist Sabra Crockett. The event is scheduled to coincide with Kentucky Writer’s Day and Earth Day.
Adult classes in the coming months include a portrait drawing workshop in February, nude figure drawing in March, watercolor landscapes in April, and several date night pottery events. Programs for children include ceramics, painting workshops, and mixed-media classes for preschool through middle schoolers. A free Family Fun Day is scheduled for April will provide fun art experiences for the entire family.
Art Center Executive Director Niki Kinkade says the organization has played a vital role for the community throughout the pandemic. “These past two years have reaffirmed how important it is for people to have access to art, beauty, and connection,” says Kinkade. “Even when life is difficult, art provides hope. We are grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts for their continued commitment to bringing arts programming to communities across the country.”
The Art Center is deeply thankful for the NEA’s financial support, which makes possible hiring and maintaining a Program Director focused on developing and enhancing creative and arts-based programming for the region. For more information on the NEA’s American Rescue Plan grants, including the full list of arts organizations funded in this announcement, visit www.arts.gov/COVID-19/the-american-rescue-plan.