David Blevins, Arts Marketing Director at the Kentucky Arts Council (KAC), works hard to bring awareness of all their available resources to his fellow Kentuckians. “There are a ton of offerings for Kentucky folks including programs, events, grants, and even funds for transporting public school students to art venues around the state.” The arts council’s annual report provides insight into many of the programs and activities offered.
According to Blevins, “The arts council supports and promotes the arts around the state by offering grant opportunities to arts organizations, public schools, and individual artists/small business owners.” The KAC is particularly proud to be celebrating its 52nd anniversary this year. The agency’s longevity has allowed it to continue the mission of serving Kentucky’s creative communities.
“Kentucky is blessed with fast horses and great bourbon, but the state has also produced many nationally recognized artists, musicians, and actors.”
The Kentucky Arts Council develops, supports, and promotes the arts in Kentucky. The organization offers education and exposure for artisans as part of its commitment to keeping the arts alive. It is a state agency that is funded publicly, by the Kentucky General Assembly, and by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) under the state’s Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet. “Funding and support are always at the top of the list,” explains Blevins, “but visibility is critical as well. Being a largely rural state, we are always concerned with how our agency can be more visible to the people and communities we work to serve.”
The NEA offers grants to state agencies like the KAC that match the state’s contribution. These grants are earmarked for specific categories such as Folk Arts, Arts Education, and Underserved Populations. While the Kentucky Arts Council supports performance, literary, and other mediums, it maintains a strong focus on the visual and craft artisans of Kentucky with its Kentucky Crafted Program.
Kentucky Crafted and The Kentucky Arts Council
The Kentucky Crafted Program is one of the arts council’s most enduring and successful programs. The adjudicated program supports a diverse range of Kentucky artisans with venues for displaying their work. In addition, the organization provides promotional and marketing opportunities, and business education. While the traditional folk art of Appalachia is well represented, the program fulfills its dedication to diversity with a broad range of disciplines and more contemporary works.
The juried artisans work with wood, ceramics, fiber, glass, and other traditional and contemporary mediums. From 3D mixed media and digital illustration to toys, furniture, and musical instruments, the artisans create pieces that range from the practical to the abstract. The Kentucky Arts Council offers an artist directory that features information about the artisans and a photo gallery of their work.
The Kentucky Crafted Program is a significant part of KAC’s efforts to increase the visibility of the arts. David Blevins puts it this way. “Some people don’t even know there is a state arts agency, so getting the word out about our programs and opportunities can be a challenge.” For the Kentucky Arts Council, the strict standards of their adjudication process are the foundation for legitimizing the value of the arts as a business.
While adjudication is based on merit, the scoring is structured to approve only the most skilled artisans across the state. “The KAC is focused on making sure there is continued support for the arts as a viable industry within the state,” says Blevins.
“So the talent is already here; it just needs to be embraced and endorsed with a focused approach on growing the industry.”
Artisans are selected for the Kentucky Crafted Program by an independent panel of judges. There are no fees or complicated restrictions, just an objective and fair review process based on the quality of the work. Artisans who want the prestige and support that comes with being a part of Kentucky Crafted have to submit an application and present their work in person. Unlike some other arts organizations, the KAC requires artisans to exhibit their work for the panel so that the judges can examine the craftsmanship and artistic merit.
The benefits of being a Kentucky Crafted artisan include networking, marketing, and business coaching and exposure for their art. The on-going support of the KAC and the increased visibility of their work have helped hundreds of artisans. Juried artisans like Gene King of TG Designs have fulfilled their dream of being able to make a living doing the work they love. The council promotes a variety of shows and venues for its artists, and it is particularly proud of their Kentucky Crafted Market.
The Kentucky Crafted Market
Not many states across the country can boast of sponsoring a fine arts and crafts show like the Kentucky Crafted Market. For 36 years, the KAC has not only sponsored this successful show, but the staff handles all the planning, promotion and execution of the event from setup to teardown. Recognized as one of the best arts and crafts events in the United States, the market is a testimony to The Kentucky Arts Council’s commitment to the arts.
The annual Spring event features the works of hundreds of Kentucky Crafted artisans. The exhibits include traditional and contemporary crafts, visual art, performance art, and specialty foods from Kentucky Proud vendors. Visitors can take part in arts educational activities, enjoy a variety of musical performances from bluegrass to world music, and find one-of-a-kind works of art. The event attracts tourists, art and music lovers, and anyone else who appreciates the heritage of the arts in Kentucky.
“When you shop inventory that has met the rigorous standards of Kentucky Crafted, you know you are buying a quality piece of work. The work is assured to be of a certain caliber, and customers do not mind paying for quality.”
Todd Finley, Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea Executive Director
The juried artisans gain exposure for their work that they rarely find anywhere else. They have the chance to connect with individual shoppers and wholesale buyers alike. Artisans have the opportunity to work with wholesalers only during the event’s “trade day.” The trade-only day is designated for retailers, corporate buyers, designers, architects and other commercial art buyers to get to know the artisans and place orders for their work.
The Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea is one of the commercial art buyers at the event each year. Todd Finley, the executive director for the organization, speaks from experience about the potential for the event’s artisans. “We have around 300 Kentucky Crafted artists that represent about 40 percent of our family of artisans. The Center represents more than 800 artists in total. Three times a year we hold our own artisan review and, of course, a percentage of those new artists that are added are juried Kentucky Crafted artists.”
Community Outreach: Healing With the Arts
The KAC has recently been working on a project that combines arts and healing for military service members and their families. The focus will be on integrating art therapy into the clinical treatment of soldiers who have PTSD and other traumatic injuries, while also offering arts programming to the families of service members.
The project is a collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, Americans for the Arts and the Department of Defense. The government agency will partner with select state arts agencies like the Kentucky Arts Council. The KAC is also collaborating with Veteran’s Centers around the state to establish arts programming at those locations over the next year.
“This new focus on the arts and the military continues our mission of bringing art experiences to diverse and underserved populations in Kentucky.” David Blevins
Images and graphics are courtesy of the Kentucky Arts Council