Music festivals opened eyes to what's possible

Sponsors and effort needed for big events,jpatton1@herald-leader.comOctober 9, 2011 

One of the most enduring legacies from the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games might be the encouragement for music and public art.

The buildup to the Games last fall spurred a host of entertainment opportunities that had little to do with horses. Alltech developed a regional Fortnight Festival, highlighted by a sold-out performance by superstar conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts in Danville. The city hosted the Spotlight Lexington festival of free performances by the likes of Blake Shelton and Trombone Shorty on downtown stages. Horse Mania, the highly popular public art project of horse statues, was resurrected.

Michael Grice, director of the Singletary Center for the Arts, which presented several acts including Marvin Hamlisch and the Chieftains during the Games, said quantifying the enduring cultural effect is difficult.

"It had to have a great effect on building new audiences last year. WEG and the Alltech Fortnight Festival and Spotlight brought in so many audiences to the arts," he said. "It's bound to resonate over the years."

Luanne Franklin, general manager of the Lexington Opera House, which presented John Lithgow, Kenny Rogers and the Charlie Daniels Band during the Games, said it gave venues "an opportunity to attract some new artists to our spaces and great performance opportunities to our patrons. That sort of opportunity comes along seldom in our industry, particularly in regards to the economy."

Franklin said the Games showed what Lexington can offer to artists.

"We are capable, the audience is here, and we all kind of knew that, but it gave us an opportunity to showcase ourselves," Franklin said. "Lexington came into its own. There is a lot of cultural diversity and a lot of interest here. There's a market here, and we shouldn't be afraid of that. That should be encouraging to the arts community: that there are audiences out there yet to be reached."

After last year's crescendo, the music has quieted down. Alltech discontinued the Fortnight Festival, and the city's Spotlight Lexington festival, which was handed off to private volunteers, couldn't make a go of it on its own.

Former Mayor Jim Newberry, whose administration produced Spotlight, said its loss was "a real tragedy." He said the city could have found a way to keep the momentum going.

"More than anything else, it was a lack of commitment by the community," Newberry said. "Maybe we could have only offered a weekend, but we should have done a weekend."

Grice said a "viable sustainable sponsor" would be essential for Spotlight to return.

Clark said the keys will be building a peg and finding long-term funding.

"The biggest legacy is education as to what it takes to put on large festivals like Spotlight. It was revealed to us what kind of expertise is needed and the supports that need to be in place," Clark said. "We need to answer the question of how you structure a festival like that without a major event in place and have a sustainable, free arts program."

One of WEG's biggest contributions, Clark said, was waking up the arts and entertainment leaders to possibilities during annual events such as Keeneland's meets, the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event and the Alltech National Horse Show.

"I think people were so used to it they didn't see the opportunity," Clark said. "It has probably awakened us to the opportunity to do something special with these other events."

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