Several years ago, Bob Shay, then the dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Kentucky, noticed something about the school's faculty: It had quite a bit of expertise in Asian cultures.
"He called us together one day and just said, 'Let's do something with this,'" says Andrew Maske, assistant professor of art history at the university. "He didn't say what exactly, but he thought we should seize this opportunity to do something with Asian arts."
Maske and his colleagues at the College of Fine Arts and UK's Asia Center are now three years into doing something with their collective Asian art expertise: staging the ArtsAsia Festival, a two-week event devoted to highlighting Asian visual art and performance.
The event starts Sunday afternoon at the Headley-Whitney Museum on Frankfort Pike, where two ArtsAsia exhibits are on display.
Sunday afternoon will focus on A Shining Heritage: Contemporary Taiwanese Lacquer Art From the Wang Family, an exhibit that came to Lexington through Cecilia Wang, who teaches in the UK School of Music and is the daughter-in-law of Wang Ching-shueng, an iconic lacquer artist who is considered a national treasure of Taiwan.
Maske says Wang Ching-shueng revolutionized lacquer art by creating two-dimensional pieces that helped the form be recognized as an art in itself and not just as a decorative technique for vases.
Now in his late 80s, Wang is not able to make the trip to the United States for the exhibit, but his sons Wang Hsien-min and Wang Hsien-chih, whose work also is on exhibit at the Headley-Whitney, will give a lecture Sunday and lead a demonstration Wednesday at UK.
Maske says it will be a unique opportunity for people to see the Wang technique with a type of lacquer that is made from tree sap and can be dangerous if not approached correctly.
"It is really amazing to watch them work," he said.
One of the major changes to this year's festival, Maske says, is that it is spread out over two weeks.
"When we tried to do it in one week, we found there were people that would have liked to have gone to five or six events that could only get to two or three, because they didn't have the time to be at ArtsAsia every night," he said. "Hopefully this will give people more chances to attend events."
Highlights on the schedule include a production of the Chinese epic play The Monkey King: Havoc in Heaven by UK Theatre. It's "the first time the theater department has put on a production specifically for ArtsAsia," Maske says.
Asia Center assistant director Shana Herron says the event tries to focus on different regions of Asia each year. This year, Central Asia will be represented by the Tuvan throat-singing quartet Huun Huur Tu, which will perform Oct. 8 at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
"We want it to be an opportunity for people here to better understand Asian culture," Herron says.