‘People are hungry to be back into live art spaces’: A year without the arts and the industry’s future

Published: May. 3, 2021 at 6:01 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - As the world shuttered during the pandemic, the loss of the arts in communities across the country was huge. The creative industry in Kentucky generates $5 billion and employs thousands.

Like a lot of other industries, the arts have seen major financial losses and workers laid off during the pandemic. But it’s also turned to its creative side to make sure art, theater and music are appreciated more than ever.

“It is a very active, busy, buzzing type of place and these walls have been silent,” said Laurie Preston.

After a year of being closed down due to the pandemic, a place of creativity is slowly coming back to life. The Living Arts and Science Center in Lexington is a 53-year-old nonprofit dedicated to learning for all.

“I would say the last year has been really interesting for us. It’s been both incredibly difficult and incredibly innovative in some ways,” said Preston.

The center started a YouTube channel during COVID to try and stay connected to its patrons. With classes, art shows, and events all canceled, the Living Arts and Science Center is facing a $400,000 revenue loss.

“We started off with really knowing that we were going to hit a pretty severe revenue loss right off the top and then of course a full year into it certainly we’ve gone way farther than we ever expected to, but we are still here,” said Preston.

In March the center opened its doors again to a spring break camp to once again foster a love of the arts and science in a new way.

“It’s kind of cool because we have had the opportunity to re-invent ourselves in some ways to be able to have some really cool things happening here and maybe change the way we have been doing things and perhaps get the opportunity to take the time to serve the community better,” said Preston.

Re-invention is a word the theater world knows. It has also found itself pulling back the curtain and writing a new script during the pandemic.

“I would say it’s been an incredible creative exercise,” said Lyndy Franklin Smith.

As co-founder of the Lexington Theatre Company, Franklin Smith was just starting to feel the momentum of the new creative upstart when the lights went dark.

Engaging with a new socially distanced audience came in the form of digital shorts online, summer workshops via Zoom and a lot of educational outreach for people still craving theatre when being together wasn’t possible.

“We were so centered on trying to find ways to continue our why, to continue our purpose and our mission in a completely new way, that we have never done before. So, it’s been challenging, it’s been exciting, it’s been difficult, it has been all of those things,” said Franklin Smith.

The arts don’t just provide something to see and do, it’s a vital economic engine.

In Kentucky the creative economy generates $5 billion, but a recent study by the Americans for the Arts Action Fund found COVID-19 devastated that sector with a $742 million revenue loss in the state.

LexArts is the fundraising arm that helps raise and grant funds back out into the arts sector, and this last year their work has been more important than ever.

“So for us it was very important to really get back to our roots, get back to our mission and to make sure the community understood what the arts means, that it was important after this pandemic that the arts comes back,” said Ame Sweetall.

For those in the arts world, things are slowly returning. In just a few weeks the Lexington Opera House will announce its upcoming season.

“People are hungry to be back into live art spaces,” said Sweetall.

As people emerge from the pandemic and seek out the culture missed, for those in the Lexington arts scene the hope is very simple.

“We have had this giant pause and it’s given us a moment to reflect on how important the arts are to our community and to our humanity,” said Franklin Smith.

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