The most hands-on visual arts couple in town, Kurt Gohde and Kate Sprengnether couldn’t find a place to get a slice anywhere when they first moved to Lexington in the Fall of 1998 from Syracuse, NY when Kurt began teaching Sculpture and Photography at Transylvania University. Kate admits moving to Lexington took some adjusting, “It was a culture shock. It was a big change for us being in Kentucky.”
For Kurt, this revelation was part comfort food, part aesthetic, “There are two simple things I frequently think of. One is pizza, and it’s a simple thing, but we were used to, you know, getting one slice of pizza….And then, I grew up close to a small town. I grew up in a rural place, but if I were to tell almost anyone I would run into that I was having an art show, they would have a fairly good understanding of what that meant, and here, in the city of Lexington, when I moved here, I could tell people…that I was having an art show and they might not really know what I meant. So I think that the cultural awareness of what it means to be an exhibiting artist was one of our big shocks.”
Ultimately, Kate and Kurt stuck it out in a new town, started their family, and have been a staple in our region’s visual arts scene for over a decade. In that time, while we have seen a burgeoning and inclusive arts community in Lexington, Kate hopes the understanding of the role of the artist and accessibility to art will continue to progress, “I think it’s probably changed…I hope that it has somewhat, but I don’t know for certain that it has because the art education hasn’t improved. I think the art community in Lexington has grown tremendously but in terms of basic art education for people whose families are not already interested in the arts, I don’t think it’s really improved in the past twelve years.”
Kurt concurs, “I still have students whose last art class was in fourth grade and in New York, you took Art every year. You either took art, music, or drama every year…so that is the core of the cultural difference. It’s just not taught in the same way.”
Eventually, Kurt took his facilitation of visual art and the role it plays in the classroom out into the community, By removing students from a traditional learning environment, he feels students are taken out of a familiar context which might elicit predictable reactions to assignments. When he began to take students off-campus, he found their performance level and behavior became more respectful of the community at large as opposed to seeking participation primarily in the social side of campus. This realization originally hit home with an exhibition of student photography at the Kentucky Theatre, “I think that’s the first thing I did when I realized how much more professional and committed they were than when they had an exhibition on campus, so I started doing more and more off-campus, and I realize the same was true every time.”
This motive eventually manifested into a Community Engagement class which began with at Wingspan Gallery. Students helped to renovate the gallery and were offered a first show in the new space. The premise behind this unique course is that the students perform and learn better off-campus along with an acknowledgment that the surrounding community identifies Transy as their school similarly to how people feel about UK, “That class came out of an understanding of neighbors that would like to know us and realizing that we could be better neighbors.” Kurt operates the class with Assistant Professor and photographer, Kremena Todorova, who he’s worked with on extended projects such as, “Passing: Fashioning Drag,” and also the upcoming exhibit, “Discarded,” which showcases a year in the life of Lexington’s curb-surfing furniture (opening at LOT).
Kate is no stranger to advancing art in the community eye either. While Kate has also worked in some capacity with almost every arts organization in town, she was most recently associated with the nine-mile nature path that opened during WEG, serving as a liaison between the artists and other key members of sponsoring organizations. Anyone who has taken a stroll or bike ride on the Legacy Trail can appreciate her handiwork in the execution of such a monumental undertaking.
As an artistic forum, Kate feels as though the Trail has great potential, “I hope that it continues, that the next projects continue to happen. I wasn’t involved in all of the planning stages…I think they really laid an incredible groundwork for what can happen in the future.” The first round of artistic works was installed just before WEG late last summer, however, the other projects involving artists on the trail have yet to make an appearance. “But the idea is that there are projects that are always added, that every year there will be something that happens or there’ll be something that’s changed…it is a continual opportunity for artists to work in the public sphere and also with the idea that we wanted to not eliminate artists who have done public art, but work with artists who hadn’t done public art…find ways to enable those artists to partake in a public art project.”
Apart from their revolving projects in town, being an artist/admin type married to an artist/admin type comes with its own sets of challenges and triumphs. Kurt, who owns the only sample of Kentucky “meat rain” which he exhibited during his installation of the “Cabinet of Curiosities” was recently aired on the Rachel Maddow Show, feels that it’s good to have someone who can empathize with the process of what it takes to pull an exhibit off, particularly during the intense period the week or two before the show, “When I’m putting a show together, or when Kate’s putting a show together as an administrator or an artist…we couldn’t do that at the same time…every time I try to tell myself, I’m not going to have to do all-nighters the week before the event, but it never really works out, and it only really works in terms of survival, because we don’t do it at the same time.”
Kate agrees but understands schedule conflicts are not always avoidable, “Well, even just a year ago, I had a big show at Tuska that I had to open, and Kurt had that show in Louisville, the same week, and it was hell, and then the kids had snow days, it was—I had to call my mom from Cleveland to come and help, because we just couldn’t do it. But we have learned, the best thing about being married to an artist, someone in the arts community is that they understand…I ultimately understand why he has to be in the gallery for a week…as much as we possibly can, we support each other in that.”
And in terms of personal aesthetic, while you might think being married to someone who is a visual artist means a similar taste in art, Kate is the first to admit, “Our aesthetic is very different.”
While Kurt believes Kate might enjoy most of what he enjoys, he feels his taste is much more narrow, “As an arts administrator, Kate has an ability to understand and appreciate things in a much broader spectrum….”
Laughing, Kate gives the frank version, “He’s a bit of an art snob.”
Kurt amends, “I should say, I’m not so much of an art snob that I would say something’s not art. Everything’s art. But in terms of what I find personally compelling, it turns out to be pretty narrow…if it’s just an object without a concept behind it, it’s really hard for me to pay much attention to.”
Kate, whose MFA is in ceramics, sees herself more as an object person, “I’m more drawn to ceramics and fibers and things that have texture, things I want to touch.” Up next for Kate, she’ll be working with LOT in 2011 as a grant-writer and and hopes to take her gift of facilitation and open an artist consultant agency, “Like I did for the Trail, doing a project for them, doing a project for LOT, that would work well with my life.” And in terms of her own art, “I’m working towards cleaning out that studio…I haven’t made any work since Lily was born, so four years. I’m kind of curious to see what I make.”
And Kurt, who claims his primary medium is people, in addition to his professorial duties, he is serving as the current board president for Lexington Art League and plans to bring his four-year tour with “Passing” to a conclusion this summer which will culminate in a coffee-table book and dramatic monologues. More immediately, he’s working towards the opening for “Discarded” at LOT on February 18 at 7 PM and will feature photos and poems by Richard Taylor, Jeremy Paden, Eric Sutherland, and Martha Gehringer, along with a song by Vandaveer.
While their tenure of twelve years in Lexington has brought more than one establishment where Kate and Kurt can get a slice, Kate still feels there is much for them to do in terms of making visual art an integral component in the community, “Up until five years ago, the Lexington art scene was dominated by people older than us…I do feel like in the last five years that’s changing and you see a lot more people in our generation and younger, but I think that needs to make more of a transition.”