FRANKFORT — Danville and a corner of downtown Lexington were well represented Thursday during the presentation of the Governor's Awards in the Arts in the Kentucky State Capitol Rotunda.
The ceremony was noteworthy for the presence of the national performers represented among the winners: Gospel singer Larnelle S. Harris and Louisville rockers My Morning Jacket.
Nationally known artists often end up sending regrets and video greetings to the ceremony, but this year it was Gov. Steve Beshear who wasn't there because of international travel, said representatives of the Kentucky Arts Council, which administers the awards.
Beshear usually attends the ceremony and hands out the awards.
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Danville native Harris was the first to be recognized with the artist award. He told the audience that his love for music started with a hometown piano teacher and was brought to fruition during his years at Western Kentucky University.
"I met a lady at Western Kentucky University who promised me if we got married, we could move home," Harris said, referring to his wife, Cynthia. "Little did I know she wasn't talking about Danville at all, but Louisville."
Harris also said that Cynthia, who also goes by Mitzy, always kept him humble, even leaving him a note to take out the trash after he won one of his five Grammy Awards.
Danville Mayor Bernie Hunstad had kind words for Harris while accepting the government award on behalf of the city, which is the home of the Great American Brass Band Festival each June, and the Pioneer Playhouse and Centre College's Norton Center for the Arts.
"We don't have Mammoth Cave and we're not near the interstate," Hunstad said. "For us, it's education and the arts, and we need all of your support for that."
In a poignant moment, Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning director Neil Chethik accepted the education award and said that the center was nominated by former Kentucky poet laureate Jane Gentry Vance, who died Oct. 2.
He read a piece that Vance wrote about the center: "The Carnegie Center is a place where all are equal as readers and writers, as lovers of words and their work, dedicated to the psychic and communal wholeness that the gift of storytelling moves us toward. Can you imagine your life without the richness that your reading and writing have brought you? How poor we would all be. How rich we are because that dimension is strong in our lucky lives."
Chethik also reasserted the center's goal to promote Kentucky as a national literary stronghold: "This is our swath of the country, and we have some incredible writers here that have been writing for the last 200 years."
Hailing from just a few blocks from the Carnegie Center, the technical staff of Lexington Center, which includes Rupp Arena and the Lexington Opera House, was recognized with the business award. A video introducing the award detailed the many events the staff handles, from performances by local artists at the Opera House to major concert tours at Rupp Arena.
"It's not often that people behind the curtain are recognized for their contribution, and that makes this award all the more special to us," said Bob Stoops, technical services manager at Lexington Center. "Each time we experience an opera or play or a really good band, we are all rewarded with something that moves our souls."
Maybe the biggest soul-movers in the room were members of My Morning Jacket, the top-selling and critically acclaimed Louisville band, which was honored with the national award. Frontman Jim James, accompanied by bassist Tom Blankenship and drummer Patrick Hallahan, used the occasion to praise the commonwealth and to advocate for arts education.
"Coming from Kentucky, there are no rules, there are no boundaries and anything is possible," James said. "Being in Kentucky has kind of given us focus; this weird place that's so beautiful, so strange."
Other honorees, all of whom received an original ceramic sculpture by Morehead State University artist Seth Green, included recently retired Kentucky Foundation for Women director Judi Jennings, who took the top honor, the Milner Award. Paducah's Market House Theatre won the community arts award, Kentucky Folklife Program founder Bob Gates was honored with the Folk Heritage Award, and Murray newspaper and radio journalist Constance Alexander received the media award.
Speaking to the audience about moving from New Jersey to Kentucky more than 20 years ago, Alexander said, "The arts are crucial to establish a sense of place and a sense of self."