Richard Young stopped National Endowment for the Arts chairwoman Jane Chu's tour of the North Limestone area at the intersection of North Limestone and Bryan Avenue.
"That's where the Night Market happens," Young said, pointing to the block where, once a month in warmer months, the streets fill with a diverse cross-section of people enjoying local art, food and commerce at an event designed to help stir a sense of community and creativity.
It was just the sort of initiative Chu, still in her first term as chair of the agency that funds and promotes arts across the country, came to see.
"We have an opportunity to see first hand some great work that's going on in terms of revitalizing the neighborhood," Chu said in an interview shortly after her tour of the North Limestone neighborhood. "At the heart of all of this is a creativity process and arts-based projects that bring people together. We already know that arts has the ability to transform neighborhoods and make neighborhoods feel like they're their own, and there are some wonderful stories to tell, so we really wanted to see the work first hand."
The visit to North Limestone, which included a visit to the Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra's North Lime Music Works program, which is training students from Arlington Elementary School in orchestral music, was the first part of her two-day visit to Kentucky.
Tuesday Chu will go to Whitesburg, where she will see several initiatives, including meeting with representatives of NEA-funded programs in Eastern Kentucky and touring the Appalshop media center that documents and promotes Appalachian culture.
The visit reflects other trips Chu has made in recent months seeing areas where the arts are being employed to help revitalize economically challenged areas. The visits are part of Chu's focus as NEA director because the arts can play a role in revitalizing economically challenged communities, she said.
"We do ourselves a disservice, and we do the arts a disservice when we think they are off in a silo by themselves or only exist for one group of people and not the other," Chu said. "We know the arts have infused our lives on an everyday basis. Look at the designs, look at the clothes we wear, look at our smart phones. There are so many ways that the arts, creation, design have helped individuals as well as communities.
"We also know that the arts, on a national basis, produce jobs."
A recent report by the United States Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed the arts sector produces 4.32 percent of the United States' GDP, outpacing industries such as construction, Chu said.
Kentucky Arts Council director Lori Meadows pointed to a recent creative industries study that said 2.5 percent of the Commonwealth's employment was within the creative sector, outpacing auto and airline manufacturing industries.
"So we know that the arts have a formidable presence," Meadows said, "not only for beauty and the quality of life, but hardcore producing jobs, spillover effects where people say, if there are arts activities around, I might want to bring my restaurant, might want to have some other activities that are tied to it.
"We are underselling the arts when we keep them off in a corner. There they are tied to our everyday lives and there are hardcore ways to show it."
In Lexington, Chu also saw the early work on an NEA-supported cultural program for North Limestone, including renovating housing for artists.
Chu, who is the first NEA chair to visit Kentucky in more than 20 years, Meadows said, was prompted to come to the Commonwealth by news of substantial work being done in Kentucky.
"We are very impressed with Kentucky, and we have come specifically to the Southeastern part of Kentucky because we think they are representative of what's emerging," Chu said. "Kentucky has had such a long history of wonderful traditions, long established ... When you talk about what heritage and traditions there are in an area, at the heart of it is arts and culture."