When Art Inc. surveyed Kentuckian artists six years ago, one of the top needs was more opportunities and spaces for artists to sell their work.
Art Inc., a program of Community Ventures designed to elevate and expand options for Kentucky artists, first opened an online retail hub arthousekentucky.org about two years ago.
It was a hit.
“The response was great,” said Mark Johnson, president of Art Inc.
But also on the to-do list was a brick-and-mortar gallery. The group started with a small gift shop in the Lyric Theatre. But a much bigger opportunity was created when Community Ventures opened the MET, a multi-use building on the corner of Midland Avenue and Third Street. Art House Kentucky found a permanent, much larger gallery space.
Art House Kentucky opened two weeks ago. In an airy corner space, the new gallery sells jewelry, glassware, photographs, soaps, candles, paintings, handbags, note cards and other Kentucky-made and crafted items.
Space to create and sell
Art Inc. also saw a way to increase art’s imprint in the East End with the opening of the MET.
Above what will soon be the second location for DV8 Kitchen — which will open later this summer — are eight artist studios. Carolyn’s Crown and Glory, a locally-owned hair salon, opened in one of the retail spaces earlier this spring. Manchester Coffee’s second location is expected to open in the next 30 days. A nail salon is expected to open soon, said Jonah Brown, president of marketing for Community Ventures.
“When we did our survey, the other need was more space for artists to create,” Johnson said. Seven painters and one photographer currently lease artist studio space. Art Inc. has plans to build more studios in the future if there is demand.
“We have room for up to 24 artist studios,” Johnson said. “It’s not just a space for artists to work. It’s also (a place) for them to engage and create community with other artists.”
Art is a central feature of the MET’s exterior. Thanks to a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Art Inc. is adding East End artist art to the building. First was Frank X Walker’s poem “Ode to the East End,” which is on the side of the building that faces Midland Avenue.
A projector installed in the parking lot will soon project images of the East End on a brick wall of the MET that faces Midland Avenue opposite Walker’s poem. A new mural by local artist Keaton Young was also recently completed on the building’s side facing Lewis Street. The MET’s lobby also features local artists commemorating Lexington’s historically Black East End.
A home, a studio and an event space in one location
For Johnson, who spent nearly a decade at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development before returning to Community Ventures to helm Art Inc., the nonprofit’s mission is personal.
Johnson is from the East End — he grew up on Fifth Street and is a renowned glass artist. His bowls have been featured at the Louvre Museum in Paris and his art has earned accolades and awards in Florence, Italy.
Soon Johnson will be moving back to the neighborhood, one of the new homeowners in another Art Inc. project — the Artists’ Village.
Sandwiched between Goodloe, Race, Warnock and Third streets, the new village is less than a five-minute walk from the MET.
Walker became the first artist to move into the Artists’ Village about two years ago.
And standing not far from Walker’s neat, two-story blue home is Johnson’s new home, still under construction. The homes are designed to have studios at the back.
The back of the homes face a common courtyard, which will become an event space for art and other shows. Think Woodland Art Fair, but smaller, Johnson said.
“The artist can just open their studios and people can come in,” Johnson said. “We can have musical events and people can come here to experience the arts.”
There is space for 14 or 15 new homes in the block. A fourth artist recently purchased land in the Artists’ Village. The homes are owned by the artists, Johnson said.
The gallery, artist studios and the village are all intended to support the historically Black East End’s rich artistic heritage, Johnson said.
“We also wanted to make this a place where the East End is memorialized and show what makes the East End so special,” Johnson said.