I read with interest Rich Copley's column about all the reports and task forces trying to plan for new entertainment venues and, as usual, the powers that be have it all backward again.
What Lexington needs to build are strong, professional sustaining arts organizations that attract engaged, supporting audiences rather than constructing more buildings that will sit empty.
Speaking from a theater professional's point of view, there is not one local theater company that can now pay their artists a living wage or regularly fill the small Downtown Arts Center at 150 seats, with productions that normally run for just two or three meager weekends.
If one needs an example to study, look no further than Cincinnati, where there are four thriving professional theater companies — three of them downtown — that all use Actors Equity contracts in some form.
Never miss a local story.
The Ensemble Theatre works out of an old converted bank building — the vault's still there — but has a reputation for regional premieres of major playwrights and Broadway shows — the award-winning musical Next to Normal the most recent. It is a place where nationally esteemed playwrights want to work.
The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's stage is in what used to be part of a department store and supports a permanent company of actors.
The Know Theatre, known for edgy contemporary work, is housed in a building in the Over The Rhine area of downtown; it did not start out as a theater.
Even the jewel of Cincinnati theaters, the Tony Award-winning Playhouse In The Park, didn't start its life in the state-of-the-art facility it now has. And even now, it needs only about 600 or 700 seats in its mainstage theater.
All of these theaters run performance schedules of at least four days a week and pay their artists and staff real salaries. In fact, Cincinnati has a community of artists that work at all the theaters. The reputation of these theaters and the loyal audiences that sustain them are found in their work, not their buildings.
What Lexington needs are artistic leaders of true vision and arts companies that can pay and support artists while delivering professional-quality performances.
Until the community can provide an environment that nurtures vital and vibrant organizations that pay artists what they deserve and tap into a potential audience base on a much broader scale than they now do, it has no need of more buildings that can't be filled and to which no one will come.
Strong arts groups expand their facilities as they grow and the need arises. Don't squander money on unneeded buildings and certainly don't try to make a sports venue serve as a theatrical one. Build strong arts companies and strong audiences, not buildings.