Merlene Davis: 'Black Roots' exhibit another sign of the reawakening of the Lyric

Herald-Leader columnistJune 7, 2014 

  • IF YOU GO

    'Black Roots: Art Creations 2014,' an exhibit of a variety of art mediums by local black artists.

    When: 11 a.m.- 5 p.m., Tues.-Fri.; and 1- 5 p.m. Sat., through Oct. 11. Reception at 5 p.m. June 20 during LexArt Gallery Hop.

    Where: Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third St.

    Cost: Free

    Information: Visit Lexingtonlyric.com.or call (859)-281-2201.

At one time, soon after the Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center re-opened more than three years ago, several people complained how inaccessible it was to the general community because the rental costs were too high and the hoops to jump through too small.

I haven't heard those complaints for several months.

In fact, what I hear now are glowing compliments about the entertainment events and informative meetings held there.

The venue has come alive with activities including the Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour, the free summer acting, singing, drumming and creative writing courses for youth, and the free summer film series on Sundays.

"I was surprised at the small changes that were made that made it feel like it was so much more inviting," said Rasheedah El-Amin, executive director. "For the most part, the community room is booked on weekends, so you've got to get it early."

El-Amin served as the cultural arts coordinator when the Lyric re-opened and was named interim director last year. In January, she was promoted to executive director.

It was in January that it dawned on El-Amin that the Lyric would be the perfect showcase for an exhibit of artwork by Kentucky black artists.

"It hit me while the Kentucky Arts Council had its exhibit up, which was a compilation of arts," she said. "It doesn't make sense that it took this long to hit me. I had done something similar with Latino artists."

But who are the local black artists and where are they? She asked around and had a brainstorming meeting with Garry Bibbs, sculpture professor at the University of Kentucky.

The result was "Black Roots: Art Creations 2014," an exhibit of the works of black artists in a variety of mediums that highlights how they have been influenced by Kentucky's culture and history.

The artists include painter Sundiata Rashid, who also painted the mural at the corner of East Third and Race streets; poet/ sculptor Bianca Spriggs; fiber artist Sonja Brooks; sculptor Lavon Williams; UK ceramics professor and sculptor Bobby Scroggins; videographer Joan Brannon; fiber artist Barbara Tyson Mosley of Louisville; and Bibbs.

Getting the exhibit together required a lot of time and legwork, Bibbs said. Plus there were budget constraints that excluded delivery fees and stipends, which made an exhibit even more difficult to pull off.

"It has been a wonderful task," said Bibbs, who served as curator for the exhibit. "We didn't know what we were going to get."

Fortunately, he said, the Lyric has "one of the top galleries in Lexington" with all the natural light and hardwood floors.

"All they are missing is good sponsorship," he said.

"The reason I'm involved and I'm still going to be involved is because of the potential it has. There is nowhere else to say anything black creatively," he said.

Each artist was chosen for the medium with which they work, said El-Amin. She asked for four to six pieces, not knowing what would be sent.

"We asked that it be inspired by or created in Kentucky," she said. "When the pieces got here, we found it was cohesive."

I have attended exhibits before where I have left feeling cold and disappointed. The Lyric exhibit is uplifting and warm.

"You've got to keep in mind that the party is about who puts it on," Bibbs said.

That would be El-Amin. She has set the tone and the spirit of the exhibit.

The Lyric "used to cater to a predominantly African-American crowd," she said, speaking of the venue's rich history going back to 1948. "It was the African-American community that rallied behind getting it created. It is only appropriate to celebrate African-American art in this exhibition. It was a perfect fit."

"Black Roots: Art Creations 2014" runs through Oct. 11. A reception will be held June 20 during the Gallery Hop, and another during the Roots & Heritage Festival in September.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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