Every arts year has its changes. But 2014 has been an unusually fluid year in Lexington arts: a change in leadership at LexArts, a change in management at one of the city's major venues, several groups going through profound destabilizing changes and a few new programs emerging.
Overall, though, the arts in Lexington continued to thrive and grow.
Two of the biggest changes involved LexArts, the city's arts umbrella organization, which bid farewell to president and CEO Jim Clark and tapped Arkansas arts and fundraising administrator Ellen A. (Nan) Plummer as his successor.
At a mid-fall meeting with finalists for the post, Plummer impressed the search committee with her detailed analysis of LexArts fundraising.
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She started the week before Thanksgiving, so the story of her administration will really begin to unfold in 2015, although she has been out visiting groups and meeting folks late this year.
And speaking of LexArts, a story that has played out this year was the transfer of management of the Downtown Arts Center from LexArts to the Lexington Parks Department. Clark requested the change before he left, contending that LexArts needs to focus on fundraising and not building management.
Lexington's arts groups had generally weathered the recession well, particularly considering closings and similar travails in other communities. But 2014 saw two groups fall on particularly hard times. Actors Guild of Lexington vacated its space in the South Elkhorn Village Shopping Center and laid off all of its remaining staff, saying it was going into hibernation in hopes of raising money to relaunch.
Balagula Theatre's founding artistic directors, Ryan Case and Natasha Williams, resigned because of financial problems, and the future of that company is also unclear.
As if to fill the void, two theater companies announced that they will launch in 2015, with plans to offer professional Actors Equity contracts. AthensWest Theatre Company will launch in February with a production of Doubt at the Downtown Arts Center and hopes to gain enough support to announce a full 2015-16 season. The Lexington Theatre Company will present its inaugural musical production in the summer, with hopes to expand to summer seasons of three summer productions in future years.
Message Theatre also re-entered Lexington earlier this year with several downtown productions.
Kentucky Conservatory Theatre's SummerFest made a successful move from the Arboretum to the MoonDance at Midnight Pass Amphitheatre, and it announced a WinterFest of two productions in early 2015.
That was the broader scope of arts in Lexington this year, although there were numerous other events:
■ Stuart Horodner was hired as the new director of the Art Museum at the University of Kentucky and immediately started making changes to the physical structure of the museum and its programming, including bringing its signature Robert C. May photography series front and center with the museum's exhibit of prints by Laurel Nakadate.
■ A new face came to the University of Kentucky School of Music in new chairman John Scheib, who received high marks from longtime faculty, including UK Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey.
■ The Lexington Art League worked to branch out beyond the walls of the Loudoun House this year with its high-profile show Luminosity, which featured the sculpture New Moon by Canadian artists Wayne Garrett and Caitlind r.c. Brown. The sculpture went through several problems and ultimately did not function as designed. But it did bring art to the corner of one of Lexington's busiest intersections, Main Street and Broadway.
■ Lang Lang was the latest classical music superstar to perform with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, performing two programmed works and an encore with the student ensemble.
■ It was a big year in the Bluegrass for, of all people, Los Angeles composer Adam Schoenberg, who had two world premieres in Lexington: the Lexington Philharmonic's performance of his Canto in April and the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington's Keeneland-inspired Go. Schoenberg's Lexington appearances were part of the Saykaly- Garbulinska composer-in-residence program, in which the groups co-commission works from the same composer.
In keeping with the transitions theme, both groups initiated big changes in 2014. The Philharmonic moved from just programming shows at the Singletary Center for the Arts to the Singletary Center and the Lexington Opera House, programming two Friday-Saturday events at the latter. The Chamber Fest somewhat combined its prelude festival and main festival into a week-and-a-half event.
■ Also taking the Singletary Center stage was Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, who sat down for a conversation with WKYT's Barbara Bailey to benefit the UK College of Dentistry. Asked who he wanted to play him in a movie about his life, Freeman said, "Morgan Freeman."
■ West Irvine native and Lafayette High School graduate and former UK student Harry Dean Stanton returned to Lexington in June for the fourth annual edition of his namesake festival. The visit was prompted by the fest's other celebrity guest, singer and actress Michelle Phillips, who reportedly said to Stanton, who had passed on the first three editions, "What do you mean you're not coming to your own film festival?" Stanton was very Stanton, standing on the Kentucky Theatre stage, asking, "What does this key open?" when he was presented with the key to the city.
Speaking of hometown artists taking national stages:
■ Former SCAPA student Grace Victoria Cox scored a bit of a casting coup, landing a key role in the second season of the CBS summer drama Under the Dome. As the season ended, her ethereal '80s child Melanie was leading the people of Chester's Mill somewhere. We'll find out where in Season 3.
■ Allison Miller got her first leading role in a feature film in the January horror release Devil's Due.
■ Eastern Kentucky University student Brandy Neelly came close to cracking the top 12 on American Idol.
■ Former WKYT weatherman T.G. Shuck and his wife, Angie, moved their three daughters to New York to pursue stage careers, and all three have been cast in Broadway or touring productions: Brooklyn Shuck as one of four actresses playing the title role in Matilda — The Musical on Broadway, Sydney in the touring production of Annie, and Raleigh landing the role of Cindy Lou Who in the tour of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
■ UK Opera director Everett McCorvey was named the artistic director of the New York-based National Chorale, after the death of founder and sole artistic director Martin Josman.
■ Three Lexingtonians — composer Stephen Trask and musicians Justin Craig and Matt Duncan — were part of Broadway's highest-profile show of the year: the Broadway production of Trask and John Cameron Mitchell's Off-Broadway hit, Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The show won numerous Tony Awards, including best actor in a musical for Neil Patrick Harris in the title role, and Trask and Craig are up for a Grammy for the original cast recording.
Winning that would be a great way to start the new year.