When the Lexington Art League unveils a new show, its leaders typically plan a big soiree at their home base, the Loudoun House on Castlewood Drive, nestled on Lexington's north side.
But Friday night, the Art League is taking its party to the center of downtown Lexington for the unveiling of New Moon, the signature sculpture in the league's new exhibit of light-based work, Luminosity.
New Moon is a 20-foot-tall, interactive sculpture made from light bulbs and metal that will be where the city's Christmas tree stands during the holidays. It was commissioned from Calgary, Alberta, artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett, and it uses more than 5,000 bulbs collected from Lexington-area residents last fall. It was assembled in January with help from students in the welding shop at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
A portion of the work made its debut last month at the league's annual Art Ball fund-raising gala, but this weekend is the first time the finished sculpture will be revealed, complete with a turnstile that will let viewers recreate the phases of the moon.
At the corner of Main Street and Broadway, right in front of Rupp Arena, many people will see it, including crowds for Friday night's sold-out concert by Luke Bryan, the Kentucky Crafted: The Market art bazaar, three remaining University of Kentucky men's basketball home games, and the Boys' Sweet Sixteen State basketball tournament in March. That's not to mention the thousands of people who simply drive through that intersection every week.
"Because we do stand for art having an important function in people's daily lives, it's very important to us to be able to put our work out there for literally millions of people to see," Lexington Art League director Stephanie Harris says. "We started looking at the visibility of this, and 400,000 people a week drive by that corner. So, by the end of this, 2.4 million people will have passed by this work of art.
"That kind of visibility is unheard-of for us. We've never had that kind of opportunity."
It was a chance born, in a way, from a failed plan.
The Art League had been pursuing an exhibition space in downtown Lexington, but its plans for a gallery near the incoming 21c Museum Hotel fell through.
"When we were unable to secure that space, we had a really critical decision to make as an organization," Harris says. "Do we go ahead and continue to program in-house as we have been, or do we take this as an opportunity to consider space in a new way, to realize that the kind of work we wanted to unveil could exist outside four walls?
"It inspired us to think along those lines and how we could have expanded programming that could really reach across the city."
Art League curator Becky Alley says Luminosity indicates where programming for the Art League is going: "where the actual pieces will be in places that fit the needs of that project."
New Moon is the latest in a growing trend of high-profile public art in Lexington, which peaked last fall with Eduardo Kobra's mural of Abraham Lincoln on the back wall of the Kentucky Theatre, commissioned by the PRHBTN festival.
"There's a really contagious enthusiasm in the community right now for public art," Lexington Mayor Jim Gray says. "The Art League has done a really good job harnessing that."
Like many people, Gray, himself a well-known art collector, saw New Moon at the Art Ball and said, "It's really cool. It's nice to see that level of creativity."
Harris recalled people marveling at the moon, even lying down under it at the Art Ball. She and others at the Art League expect more wonder as the piece is unveiled for audiences from across the Bluegrass.
"It's multi-generational," says Lori Rowland Houlihan, special events liason for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. "You can go with your grandparents, your kids, the whole family, and it's very interactive. You don't just stand and look at it."
LexArts president and CEO Jim Clark says groups "should be looking for ways to get beyond their walls. Bringing art to a larger audience is a good thing."
Such projects, he says, need to reflect the organization and help build an audience for traditional and non-traditional projects alike.
The Art League is offering a tie-in to its home base with the other part of Luminosity, an exhibit of light-based works by Brown, Garrett and three other artists that opens Feb. 28.
As for New Moon, Alley says, "It's exactly where we wanted it."
Beyond that, Harris and Alley say, they are looking at more projects that will take place outside the Loudoun House. Gray says that's good not just for the Art League but for the city.
"Thinking beyond the walls of Loudoun House is like thinking beyond the city limits," Gray says. "What they're doing is really inspiring. It animates the city in a really good way."
Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Twitter: @copiousnotes. Blog: Copiousnotes.bloginky.com.