LexArts: Fabulous at Fifty – Smiley Pete Publishing

LexArts is a mainstay in Lexington, providing opportunities and support for the local arts community. LexArts celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2022 and plans to celebrate this milestone with some familiar and much-loved programming.

The first iteration of LexArts, Lexington Council for the Arts, was established to provide programs and services for arts organizations and artists to ensure a thriving arts community. A separate organization, Fund for the Arts, was created in 1984 to provide general operating support for area arts organizations. The two merged in 1989 to become the Lexington Arts and Cultural Council, and in 2005 the organization was renamed LexArts.

Today, LexArts acts as the area’s arts council and united arts fund — advocating on behalf of and raising funds for artists and arts organizations — and as a local arts agency, programming its own arts exhibits and services.

President and CEO Ame Sweetall joined LexArts in February 2020, just before the beginning of the pandemic, an event that greatly altered her first two years with the organization.

“Our emphasis over the past two years has been to help sustain and maintain our arts organizations so they didn’t have to fold,” Sweetall said. “In terms of our emphasis right now, it is the recovery of the arts after the pandemic.

“One of the last industries able to come back strong is the arts,” she continued. “The arts organizations had a hard time doing advanced planning when we just didn’t know when we’d be able to bring groups back into galleries or theaters for live performances.

“We’re on the upswing for support in the arts and are able to provide more funding, more resources and more support in general for all of our artists and organizations out there bringing the arts back to life after this pandemic,” Sweetall added.

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, LexArts is bringing back one of the city’s most visible and popular public arts programs — Horse Mania. This program brings sponsors and artists together to design and paint life-sized horse statues that will be displayed throughout the city before being auctioned. Funds from the program directly support LexArts and the arts in Lexington.

“Horse Mania has been a public arts initiative like no other,” Sweetall said. “People notice them and recognize Lexington for the horses — it’s really an iconic symbol of who we are.

“The first iteration was in 2000, and then in 2010, so of course it made sense we would come back in 2020,” she said.

“Of course we had to put that on hold because of the pandemic. We were sad about that, but we found out the Breeder’s Cup would be back in Lexington in 2022 and realized it would be LexArts 50th anniversary, so we decided we were going to do a 12-year, 2022 version of Horse Mania.

“I’m so glad we did because people have shown up in the most amazing ways. We sold the sponsorships almost immediately, and we received over 400 art submissions by about 200 artists, which is huge,” Sweetall said.

One returning special project born out of Horse Mania is Horse Play, an extension of Horse Mania that allows students at local schools to design and paint their own horses and foals.

“Thanks to the support of the Kloiber Foundation, we were able to purchase almost 90 foals and horses to go out to every Fayette County school and education program, as well as all the private schools, at no cost to us what-so-ever ,” Sweetall said.

These pieces will also be auctioned, and a portion of the proceeds will go back to the schools to fund their arts education initiatives.

Another aspect of Horse Mania coming back this year is the inclusion of artists from Lexington’s four sister cities — Deauville, France; County Kildare, Ireland; Shinhidaka, Japan; and Newmarket, England. Selected artists from each city will visit Lexington and create their horses. These horses will also be publicly displayed and included in the auction.

A new and special aspect of this year’s Horse Mania is a partnership with Independence Bank to benefit organizations in Graves, Hopkins, and Warren counties that were impacted by December’s deadly and destructive tornadoes.

Said Sweetall: “When we were building all of this out, the horrible storms hit Western Kentucky. Independence Bank wanted to do something special for these communities, so they have sponsored three horses and will bring a student to Lexington from each county to paint those horses with local artists.”

The horses will travel to their respective counties for public display, then return to Lexington to be auctioned, with proceeds from their sale returning to those counties to support Mayfield’s Ice House Gallery and Family Resource Centers in Warren County, and to rebuild the Dawson Springs softball and baseball field in Hopkins County.

Public display of all Horse Mania horses is scheduled for November, with the auction to take place in Keeneland in December.

In addition to Horse Mania, LexArts is excited to bring back Arty Parties this spring, an initiative that supports individuals in hosting events with an arts-engagement component — visual arts, music or literature — and LexArts manages ticket sales.

Parties can be small or large, casual or elegant, and this year’s parties will include everything from a Short Street Soiree to a literary walk designed around a book written about a historic Lexington murder trial. More than a dozen Arty Parties are currently in the works.

Other 50th anniversary celebration plans include a special edition of the Fund for the Arts campaign kickoff event and an anniversary ball later in the year.

While celebrating the past 50 years, LexArts is definitely looking forward to the next 50 years and beyond.

“The pandemic is one of the biggest challenges the arts community has faced,” said Sweetall. “What did we all do when we were home quarantining? We listened to music, we watched movies, we read books. Maybe you started sewing again, maybe you started knitting or drawing. When we were down and when we were lost, we turned to the arts.

“We know the arts bring in industry, it brings in workers, it promotes community well-being and quality of life,” Sweetall continued.

“When we think about what we’ve done over the last 50 years, I think we’re ready to just rock it in the next 50 years,” she said. “We’re going to focus on the arts as part of the fabric of our life here in Lexington.”

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