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While Kentucky is widely recognized for such things as fried chicken, horses and bourbon, it could be argued that our connections to the arts are just as considerable.
Legend has it, for example, that Kentucky was the first state to see a performance of a Beethoven symphony, which was conducted in Lexington in 1817.
Several weeks ago, meanwhile, the world marked the 100th birthday of an American legend, William “Bill” Monroe, the founder of bluegrass music whose Ohio County home has become a shrine to many.
Kentucky also has ties to two others who were pioneers in other uniquely American music genres: Lionel Hampton, a Louisville native who helped define jazz; and W.C. Handy, the father of the blues, who cited his time in Henderson as being a major influence. That city now hosts a major festival each summer in his honor.
It may be more of a stretch, but Kentucky can also lay a small claim to the spread of the arts through the radio and movies. Nathan Stubblefield of Murray has been called by some – including the General Assembly in the 1940s – the true inventor of radio, not Marconi. And although he did not invent the motion picture projector here, Thomas Edison did call Louisville home for a brief time when he was a young adult.
The world’s first famous movie director – D.W. Griffith – was born in Kentucky, and there is no shortage of stars of stage and screen who have also called the commonwealth home, if only for a time. Those range from George Clooney, Johnny Depp and Tom Cruise to those who turned the Route 23 corridor in Eastern Kentucky into the Country Music Highway; those include Loretta Lynn, Ricky Skaggs and the Judds.
It doesn’t take a long drive for any Kentuckian to find the arts being celebrated, especially during this time of year, when numerous festivals are held across the state.
As for the more permanent venues, visitors can travel to such places as the National Quilt Museum, which celebrates 20 years in Paducah this year. About 40,000 people take a tour annually.
Further east, the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea offers a wide variety of handmade products and books. This state-run facility has welcomed more than 1.3 million people since opening in 2003.
It was the following year when the Kentucky School of Craft began helping local residents in Eastern Kentucky refine and preserve their timeless Appalachian artwork. It is now affiliated with the Hazard Community and Technical College System.
If you’re in Louisville, you can tour the Speed Art Museum, which features some of the world’s most famous artists and collections that date back 6,000 years. And if you’re in Covington, there’s the world’s largest hand-blown stained-glass window.
There are nearly a dozen restored art décore theaters across the state that take us back to an earlier era, and several permanent orchestras, dance companies and performing arts centers showcase the arts on a regular basis as well.
In an effort to encourage the study of this subject in our schools, Gov. Steve Beshear proclaimed Kentucky Arts in Education Week in mid-September. At the same time, the Kentucky Arts Council announced that it was giving schools opportunities to take advantage of short-term artist residencies in the spring. The deadline to apply for grants lasting up to four weeks is Oct. 15, so time is drawing short. School officials wanting to know more can go online at artscouncil.ky.gov. There, they can click on “Grants” and then “Teacher Initiated Program.”
As always, if you would like to let me know your thoughts on this column or any issue affecting state government, please write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at (800) 372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is (800) 896-0305. I hope to hear from you soon.