Kentucky Voices

Ben Owen: Proliferation of street art enlivening Lexington culture

March 2, 2014 

The recent growth of street art in Lexington provides an opportunity for not only the beautification of public areas throughout the city, but for the city as a whole to embrace the arts and forge a new cultural identity.

The stigma of street art as a nuisance and as a blight on urban areas is lifting across the world, and Lexington is doing its part in the validation of the art form. Much praise should be directed toward PRHBTN, the annual celebration of street art in Lexington.

Because of the work done though PRHBTN Lexington has seen an explosion of high-quality street art in the past several years.

This past November works by renowned artists Eduardo Kobra, Gaia, Odeith and Phlegm were installed at various points around downtown Lexington. Kobra's large-scale mural of Abraham Lincoln has captured the interest of the city in a way that crystallizes the importance of public art and exemplifies the possibilities surrounding arts events in the city.

The installation of the mural on the back of the Kentucky Theatre facing Vine Street served as a several-day live event in which members of the public were encouraged to observe the art-making and interact with the artists. Through organizing parties and inviting DJs to play music, the event served as a way for interested people to take ownership in their city and to interact with the art scene in Lexington in a way that they might otherwise not.

This idea of public art events surrounding the installation of a new public work of art was seen in 2012 when the German street artists Herakut painted two murals downtown (one on Market Street and another at the intersection of North Limestone and East Sixth).

Over the course of these two mural sessions the artists interacted with members of the public and the event allowed the city to converge around a type of art that hadn't really been represented on such a scale before in Lexington.

Street art provides an exciting avenue for the inclusion of previously uninterested parties in the arts.

People who would not visit museums or galleries might take more of an interest in street art, and by inviting those people to public events surrounding the creation of street art, the culture of downtown can become more convivial and inclusive.

Between the discussions of creating an arts district in Lexington and the existing arts structures (Gallery Hops, Lexington Art League Fourth Friday shows, etc.) there is an audience for art in Lexington, and that audience has proven its desire to participate in street-art events.

Downtown Lexington is already home to a vibrant community of artists and members of the public interested in interacting with the arts, and with all of the plans surrounding the Rupp Arena renovations and the buildup of the arts and entertainment district, street art should be considered an important component of the arts culture in Lexington.

I hope the recent trend of including street art in the landscape of the city will continue for years to come. PRHBTN has proven to be a successful endeavor in bringing respected street artists from across the world to Lexington, and there is already a small but passionate community of local street artists working in Lexington.

Through inviting artists to come work in Lexington and utilizing the existing infrastructure created by local artists and the universities in town, Lexington could easily continue the recent increase in sanctioned street art.

By embracing street art as a valid art form the city could do much to build a strong cultural identity.

Lexington could become a hub for innovative new forms of art and further its reputation as an exciting and culturally important place to live.

Ben Owen, an art teacher at Leestown Middle School in Lexington, is completing a master's in art education at University of Kentucky.

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