Art of the $ale

Growing arts scene
bodes well for Madison, La Grange

Madison Art Club finds success
on Main Street, giving local merchants,
economy boost in tourism

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

September 2012 Edition Cover

September 2012
Edition Cover

LA GRANGE, Ky. (September 2012) – In an effort to increase the visibility of the arts scene in La Grange, many galleries and studios have opened along Main Street, also opening the door for a boost in tourism. What the arts can bring to the city can establish a foundation for future cultural enhancements that can revitalize the area, local officials say.
“Arts groups are key to a thriving city, and especially to smaller communities,” said Linda Goin, executive director of Discover Downtown La Grange, the town’s Main Street Program. At the same time, “People will not engage in the arts unless they want to become engaged.” To become engaged, they need venues.
Goin said the problem with the downtown La Grange area is “a lack of larger appropriate venues for music, theater and larger studios.” But there is no doubt that “the arts can contribute to community-building and economic development, with an emphasis on creating ‘destinations’ for tourism as well as providing foundations for community learning and development.”
Venues for experiencing the arts in one form or another have recently expanded in the quaint railroad town. Several galleries and studios have combined to create a gallery hop, an event often popular in larger cities. The Art on the Tracks Studio Tour includes Utopia Studio, Gallery 104, the Art Gallery on Main, the Kinney Studio, the Campbell Studio and Friends and Fiber.
This tour affords participants the chance to meet the artists, view their work and enjoy light refreshments. It takes place on the fourth Saturday of every month from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. This tour coincides with an antique car show, Cruisin’ with the Quads. These cars represent an artform all of their own.
“Anytime you have a collection of like businesses in one area, they become a larger attraction collectively than they were individually,” said Kim Buckler, executive director of Oldham County Tourism & Visitors Bureau. Instead of creating competition, “it creates more options.”
“There have always been arts in the county,” said Angie Campbell, artist and owner of The Campbell Studio in La Grange. Looking back on the 15 years she has been established in her studio space, Campbell said, “The arts are more visible now than in the past.”
With the addition of more galleries and studios comes the opportunity for more outlets in which local arts can sell their works. Large exhibiting shows, such as the annual Arts on the Green in June, are another way to reach serious art consumers.
Arts on the Green has grown from 15 participants to 120 vendors since it began 13 years ago, said Kathy Dowling, executive director for The Arts Association of Oldham County and its Gallery 104. This is proof of interest in the arts and “it is the largest attended event in the county that I am aware of; it has even gained regional awareness,” she said.
Dowling even gets out-of-state calls from people wanting to make sure the show will be held. “It fills the hotels and restaurants. Stores are open on the Sunday of the event and do a great business. We had 300 visitors in the gallery last year during Arts on the Green.”
Buckler said, “Arts on the Green is the oldest and longest running event we have in the county that does appeal to tourists from outside the community.” She said the arts association “does a lot for La Grange in that they host many ongoing, creative events and special showings through Gallery 104.”
Gallery 104 has been open for five years in La Grange and displays the work of the association’s artists. Dowling has been there for the last three years, and in that time she has seen a growth in the arts scene.
“We have 30 artists here at Gallery 104,” she said. In addition to art classes and contests, a popular event taking place every month is the Artist of the Month exhibit. The featured artist “tends to sell their work better, especially if we have a reception,” said Dowling. “I get the word out as best as I can.”
Word does spread because as a result of a former Artist of the Month exhibit, the gallery had its largest sale. “We sold a Lee Wade painting for $5,000,” she said.
The high quality of the juried artwork is what sets Gallery 104 apart from local gift shops. “We’re very much a gift shop town,” said Dowling. “It took a long time to sell a painting off of the wall. We now sell a couple a month. Our sales have doubled since last year.”
Several of the artists are juried into Kentucky Crafted: The Market, a prestigious Kentucky Arts Council program. “Kentucky Crafted is very difficult to get into.”
“The best of the best Kentucky artisans are at that show,” said Buckler. She attended Kentucky Crafted this year and said, “La Grange was well represented.”
Art classes for adults and children are another way the arts association tries to reach out to the community to expand the arts. A well attended three-day workshop is one taught by watercolor instructor, Gail McDaniel.
McDaniel travels from her home in Nashville, Tenn., to conduct the workshop, which usually has 13 students. She is a sister to arts association member Pam Tallman, and people “usually sign up six months in advance for the class,” said Dowling. The workshop will be held Nov. 8-10.
“Options and variety are what brings people to a town,” Buckler said. “We have all types of artists in La Grange. It’s fascinating to me to see the different types of mediums our artists use.”
“I’m proud of the efforts that people have made in La Grange toward the arts, by setting up workshops, meetings, dances, poetry readings and classes,” said Goin. She does have a problem with reaching families to spread the word. Unless residents read the paper or follow the activities listed on Discover Downtown La Grange’s Facebook page, they’re missing out on offerings.
“They’re missing out on a great community that’s slowly but surely building here in the town,” said Goin.
Another local venue is La Grange Arts & Crafts, which conducts classes and sells art and craft supplies. Goin said that her own La Venture Station has reached out to crafters and artisans to build an Oldham County Etsy Team. “This will incorporate Oldham County artists who can sell online and still bring those sales back home as a ‘shop local’ effort.”
She said La Grange has an excellent frame shop on Main Street to complement the artwork sold in the galleries. Local artisans set up booths at the La Grange Farmers Market on Saturday mornings to showcase their work. Soiree offers ballroom dancing classes and a community dance every Sunday evening at a cost of only $5 per person. A second dance studio, Studio 4 Dance, teaches dance to younger people.
Karen Eldridge, owner of Karen’s Book Barn & Java Stop, said it is important not to leave the literary arts out of the overall arts scene. Her book store plays host to one, sometimes two, book readings and signings a month. Over the previous year, this area “has grown for me,” she said.
In an effort to keep up with the changing times, she has started a campaign to “save the printed word.” With the availability of electronic devices, she days it’s important to still pick up a book to read, listen to a storyteller or enjoy music from a live performance.
“You need to actually hear the music. There is an art to music,” said Eldridge. Her business plays host to a musical program every Saturday night.
She said a second coffeehouse in town, La Grange Coffee Roasters, holds a bluegrass jam on Monday nights that has grown so big that a second bluegrass jam is being held at the local La Grange Community Center.
Eldridge is also on the board of Discover Downtown La Grange and is very involved in what happens on Main Street. As a result of a workshop held by tourism consultant Roger Brooks, Eldridge said that having the arts move back into an area establishes a foundation “that others will follow.”
Campbell said “there are some good programs within the high school for students interested in the arts.” She hopes to start teaching classes for high schoolers soon.
Karen Leightty, who opened Utopia Studio in May 2012, said she wants to provide an opportunity for children and adults to learn oil and acrylic painting and be able to take photography workshops. Leightty is a professional oil painter and photographer.
Originally from Louisville, Leightty spent 17 years in Florida. She then decided, “I wanted to come back and get in the small town feel.” She targeted downtown La Grange because it “reminds me of what Kentucky is all about.”
Leightty is still assembling her gallery space and sells work by a few other artists in addition to her own artwork and jewelry. “I love what I do. I always carry a camera with me. I knew this is what I would do the rest of my life. It’s in my blood.”
To help Leightty and other artists like her succeed at their profession, “it is absolutely necessary to have a government behind the arts, even if that support is not financial,” said Goin. To have city or county employees and elected officials speak up for or participate in art-related events, “can lend credibility to those efforts.”
Last year, La Grange failed in its efforts to achieve a cultural district designation from the state. La Grange Mayor Bill Lammlein was able to declare the historic district a cultural district in 2011.
By becoming designated as a cultural district, “art groups might have a better chance at achieving funds through grants,” said Goin. “But that opportunity has not presented itself, since there are few art grants available to rural areas or small towns.”
La Grange will have to depend on the ingenuity of its artists to merge ahead in a cultural sense and keep the city thriving economically and form a tourism standpoint.

Back to September 2012 Articles.



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