It is a sad and understated fact that when times are hard, the arts are the first to be cut from a budget. Perhaps this has some sociological correlation with the idea of the “starving artists.” However, the flip side of that coin— the importance of the artist to the community— is paramount. Can you imagine the Lexington streets and businesses without Pat Gerhard’s fun and imaginative use of color? Do you even remember a time when the Horsemania horses weren’t scattered all over town?

The universities are founding fathers for art here—establishments that continually produce new artists for the community. (Take Danville, for example. If it weren’t for Centre College and its stable setting for artistic growth and development, Danville’s arts community would be visibly poorer. The same might be said of Berea.)

The University of Kentucky and Transylvania are part of the holy trinity of establishment-artist-community. This is where the new and local avant-garde are thinking art and making art every day. It only stands to reason that community interest is just as important, which translates into warm bodies in the galleries and cold cash for the work.

This week the University of Kentucky’s Open Studio and Transylvania’s Empty Bowls project are both providing a place for young artists and students to showcase their work to the community.

The University of Kentucky Department of Fine Arts and the Art Graduate Student Association (AGSA) host the 13th annual gala art event, Open Studio on Friday, December 3, from 5-10 P.M. Art will be everywhere, covering every wall, hanging from the ceiling, mounted on pedestals and rising up from the floor of the Reynolds Building at 672 South Broadway in Lexington. Donations will be accepted at the door, and the artwork is for sale. A high point of Open Studio is the annual Carey Ellis Art Show, juried this year by Michael Godlett, a well-known local artist. The event also features printmaking demonstrations and a metal pour, as well as exhibits of students’ work in all 2-D and 3-D media. Musicians including the folk band of one UK professor, a disc jockey and a string quartet will perform throughout the building all evening long.

Professor Gary Bibbs and his graduate students use this opportunity to reach out to others in the school to participate, from music and theater to history students. It could take hours to see all the art on display, so of course, refreshments will be served.

About 15 years ago, Bibbs was hearing a common problem from his graduate seminar students.

They were doing professional work but they were not getting professional showcasing. Open Studio was Bibbs’ solution to this problem, modeling the event after First Fridays in Chicago. At First Fridays at the Museum of Contemporary Art, visitors enjoy an intriguing mix of culture, ranging from live music and performance art to experimental films and hands-on art stations, as well as a series of monthly exhibitions featuring emerging Chicago artists. Sound familiar? For Professor Bibbs and his students, First Friday is annual, always in December. The frequency of Open Studio may be decreased to an Annual Event to better fit Lexington’s intimate size, but the basic idea of the salon is still present in these venues. It is art for the artist’s sake. It is a platform to a number of aspiring voices. It is a spotlight on hardwork in an industry that deserves our attention. It is, in other words, a modern-day salon.

“A lot of people thought we were nuts,” says Bibbs of his project, “until they started to see all the people who started becoming as serious as hell about these students and their work.”

A group of ceramics students will be one of many displaying and selling their work at Open Studio. Here, twenty percent of the proceeds will go to the Student League of Independent Potters, University of Kentucky Ceramics program. This student-run organization was created to help raise money specifically for the ceramics program. (Think: lack of government funding.) Along with the officers of this group, the sale will also feature works by the program’s graduate, undergraduate and Fine Arts Institute students. Several of these students have won awards for their artwork, and have exhibited locally, nationally and internationally. This sale will be held in the Ceramics room #220, in Reynolds Building.

The Reynolds Building where Open Studio takes place lacks any sort of signage. Its location is a bit stranded on South Broadway where strip bars and vagabonds once stood (you all remember Boots).

Part of the mission of Open Studio is to take part of the proceeds and put it toward giving the building an identity. This year they are looking at signage, giving it more than just a name. The event has grossed up to $2000 in recent years, starting from budgets as low as $250. Contributors include local businesses, corporate offices, parents, loved ones and the Lexington community.

“This isn’t just a showcase for students to display their work,” says Marilyn Swan, a member of the Graduate Student Association involved with Open Studio. “It is an opportunity for the community to experience mediums that might not get as much attention as, say, painting. We just happen to have the foremost fiber artist, Arturo Sandoval, who is of international acclaim. We also have a strong digital art exhibit, another medium that isn’t always available to the public. This is the hippest event in town this time of year.”

Carleton Wing of the Wingspan Gallery concurs, adding, “At Open Studio, you just don’t know what you are going to get around the corner.”

He, of course, is speaking of the theatrics of this event. At one of the previous galas, spectators found hallway mudwrestling among the acoustic student musicians. Every single class has space for art inside the hall, and it is brought to life by the celebration happening around it.

The reward of actually selling a piece of art is part of the excitement for the artist.

Waseem Touma is the president of ASGA and will showcase his work at Open Studio. His work can also be found in the Ann Tower Gallery, but it is going to be a bit cheaper at the university event.

Break bread at Transy

Another major producer of aesthetics will be showcasing talent this week.

On the other end of Broadway, Transylvania University students, faculty and staff as well as potters from across Kentucky will use their artistic talents to benefit the Community Action Council this holiday season with the Morlan Gallery’s Empty Bowls Project, Monday, December 6, through Friday, December 10.

Potters from around Kentucky have been making colorful ceramic bowls for the exhibition. On Friday, December 10, a closing reception and supper will be held from 5-7 P.M., in the Rafskeller located in the Mitchell Fine Arts Center. Dinner is free with the purchase of a $10 ceramic bowl (dinner-only is $5 bucks, but spring for the bowl).

In addition to the $5 soup bowls, larger, one-of-a-kind artist’s bowls will be sold at a higher fixed price. The proceeds for these larger bowls will be equally divided between the artist and the Community Action Council, a local agency that provides meals, clothing and living essentials to Fayette County residents. There will be a “Preview Day” on Monday, December 6, when people can come to survey the artists’ bowls prior to buying them on Friday.

Empty Bowls presents a different aspect of establishment-artist-community.

Here the artist is working with the establishment for the community. The money collected will literally feed the hungry, and this places the artist in a position to give back to the same community that ideally gives to the artist.

The artist is no longer just making art, he is participating in a charitable trade. He’s in the game. The artist now has a new importance to us, but unless there are those warm bodies, his impact is limited. Transylvania’s Empty Bowls takes the salon showcasing of Open Studio and gives it an activist slant.

Carleton Wing, whose gallery is in the Transy neighborhood (and Transy students worked on the rehab of the space) says Empty Bowls “gets the community together for more than just art. When someone purchases a bowl at this event, he is contributing to the community. It’s an activity of fellowship.”

With both of these events, the public is given not just an opportunity to see great work but, to buy great work for really cheap. This is professional work, most of it priced well under $200.

The purpose of these events is to provide an opportunity for the artist to interchange with the community. The artists can get out there and be seen, get their work known to the public. It is a rite of passage in some ways for the up and coming artist. A good sounding board for their work is crucial to the future of our arts. Moreover, it allows the public to take an active part in our arts, which is something Lexington strives for in its endeavors like Empty Bowls and the Gallery Hop. Residents can not only take part in the arts, but they can help out with our community.

In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, this is a huge time of year for great causes and cultural events. When Nicholasville Road is bumper to bumper with Sears gift wrappings and stock stuffers, the downtown and university art scene is exploding with new, professional art.

This art needs our attention so that we can have more Ann Tower Galleries…more places like Wingspan…more people like Pat Gerhard who color our world in so many literal and figurative ways and make it more beautiful.

Events of this nature are integral to the development of the city as well as our culture. Without a platform for new, trained artists, artists who have studied those before them, modern art would be left for album covers and fast food advertisements.

Without these salons, these establishments, the community is starved of the aesthetic richness that has made every culture from the Roman Empire to Danville, Kentucky. n

Open Studio will be held on Friday, December 3, from 5-10 P.M. at Reynolds Building at 672 South Broadway. Empty Bowls will begin Monday, December 6 through Friday, December 10 at the Morlan Gallery. A closing reception/supper will be held from 5-7 P.M. on December 10.


In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, Paris was the artistic capital of the Western world, and within the city, the salon was the center of Parisian society and taste.

A salon was typically the creation of a well educated and financially comfortable hostess in her forties. She provided good food, a well-set table and music for guests engaged in the art of social and intellectual conversation. But the salon was also an outgrowth of the French Royal Academy, the most important fine arts school at its time. Due to a subsequent decline in royal patronage with the death of Louis XIV (think: loss of government funding), the main system for artist to establish their careers was through the salon.

Art was submitted, then judged and selected for the salon by a jury of respected educators from the Academy. The salon was filled wall-to-wall, top-to-bottom with the art that had been accepted, the crème de la crème, and thus young artists, often students, were able to publicize their work. It was this partnership among the establishment, artist and community that fueled the arts for centuries.

Lexington may not be nineteenth century France, but an important community does thrive. The Gallery Hop includes 31 mapped downtown studios and galleries, and the city is proud to house the incredible talent of already established artists who merit and receive national and international recognition.

The LACC and the Lexington Art League offer established forums for artists and art lovers.

At a different end of the spectrum, Latitude LLC provides yet another voice for artists in the community—most recently with their poster competition through December 15.

Nude 2005 will be livening up Loudon House before long.

It may be cold outside, but there’s enough art projects happening to warm us all. n