Lexington Art League executive director Stephanie Harris has gotten used to it when she makes fundraising presentations.
"Everyone would say, 'Oh, yeah, I've come there for The Nude,' or, 'Oh, yeah, I've come there for Fourth Friday,'" Harris says. "And those are really great events. I'm glad. But ..."
The calendar for the Art League's upcoming season contains neither the annual wintertime Nude exhibit or Fourth Friday parties, which were signature events for the group, based in the Loudoun House at Castlewood Drive and Bryan Avenue.
They were popular events, but Harris and other Art League staff say they had run their courses and preparation for them had been a last hurdle in the way for the Lexington area's largest visual art organization to realize a new vision for itself.
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"When we talk about LAL today, it's not just focused on one or two programs or events," Harris said. "It's focusing on the scope of our work, and that feels like a much more genuine way to serve the community."
Harris says the upcoming season will be completely focused on the group's new vision statement: "The Lexington Art League envisions a world where art, artists and art making are central to human inspiration, self-realization and meaning."
Eliminating two of its highest-profile presentations is a head-turning move, but Art League directors say they are hardly retiring to their studios and expecting library-like perusal of their galleries.
Friday night was the opening for the newest exhibit at the Loudoun House, Currents, a show of local works curated by Lexington artist Louis Zoellar Bickett with all the appropriate revelry.
That's where exhibitions and programs director Becky Alley says the Art League intends to focus its event energy.
"Instead of following a formula, we want to have an event when we need an event, when the programming calls for it, not when the calendar says," Alley says, alluding to the Fourth Friday events, which were held on the fourth Friday of most months. "So we want the programming and the art to lead the way.
"Being a contemporary arts center, we have an obligation to be fresh and vibrant, and sometimes, when you get tied to things because they've happened for many, many years, it can keep it from feeling fresh. ... It sort of mentally makes them all seem the same, even though we might be opening a brand new show you haven't seen. So now, it's not Fourth Friday, it's the opening of Currents."
Come January, it won't be the opening of the 28th edition of The Nude, it will be Luminosity, a large-scale light sculpture that will be exhibited outdoors in downtown Lexington, along with complementary pieces at the Loudoun House.
The sculpture will be part of an eight-week residency by Canadian artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett, who have created similar large-scale light bulb exhibits in Moscow, Chicago and Calgary, Alberta.
The Art League has numerous events scheduled around Luminosity, including the inaugural Art Ball on Jan. 25, a Luminosity preview, unveilings of the public sculpture Feb. 21 and night hours at the Loudoun House so visitors can get the full impact of the pieces.
The sculpture will be interactive, with viewers able to turn portions on and off, and will be displayed in a prominent downtown location that has yet to be determined.
"We loved the collaborative community feeling that it brings to the surface and felt like it would be a beautiful focal point at the center of downtown Lexington, when it is usually dark," Harris says. "We're focusing on this concept of illumination, and for us, that directly translates into this beautiful renewal of our organization."
It's a renewal that has been going on a while, notes Harris, who took over leadership of the Art League in 2010.
The big events have looked the same, but Harris and others at LAL point to projects like the Community Supported Art, or CSA, program, in which people can buy shares of work by local artists that will be distributed at periodic "harvests," as examples of the new directions the group is going in. This summer, the Art League presented its SITE/offSITE exhibition that engaged visiting and community artists for complementary installation projects. The annual Woodland Art Fair boasted a Big Tent section that engaged local artists in a number of ways.
The Art League is also working on an online catalog of local artists, including studio tours and images of works.
Harris said a key part of the revamp of the Art League is increased support to local artists, from events that engage them like Currents, a format the League plans to revisit, to new policies saying LAL will no longer ask artists to donate work and all projects involving local artists will be commission-based. CSA artists, for instance, receive $1,000 per "crop," and with three crops a year with nine artists each, that is an annual commitment of $27,000 to that program.
"Last year, we increased our financial support to artists by 300 percent, because we realized that we really have a different kind of capacity to support our arts community," Harris says. "While focusing on exhibitions and excellence in art making, we can find a contemporary way to serve artists. We've found a beautiful combination between the work we did five years ago, and the really relevant work we're doing today."
IF YOU GO
What: Lexington Art League exhibition of conceptual art curated by Lexington artist Louis Zoellar Bickett
When: Through Oct. 20
Where: Loudoun House, 209 Castlewood Dr.
Learn more: (859) 254-7024, Lexingtonartleague.org.