Stage & Dance

Rich Copley: 2013, the year in Central Kentucky arts

The University of Kentucky's male a cappella choir, the  acoUstiKats, just missed making the final four on The Sing-Off.
The University of Kentucky's male a cappella choir, the acoUstiKats, just missed making the final four on The Sing-Off. Tyler Golden/NBC

This was a year that arts and entertainment in Central and Eastern Kentucky raised their profiles, though maybe not in ways we expected.

Reality TV and long-ignored urban walls were some of the canvases artists used to make big statements that were hard to ignore.

Public art goes big: Who ever thought something would turn your head to the left while traveling along Vine Street between Limestone and Rose Street. The stretch was lined with the nondescript backs and service entrances of buildings that front Main Street. Then a 3-year-old outsider art festival called PRHBTN had the big idea to commission an artist to cover the back of The Kentucky Theatre with a mural of Kentucky native President Abraham Lincoln. The work by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra showed the appeal of public art to provoke thought, celebrate culture and alter a landscape.

Multimillion-dollar auction: Keeneland Race Course hosted the first of what is planned as an annual sale of internationally acclaimed art at The Sporting Art Auction, organized by Lexington's Cross Gate Gallery. The lots included works by icons Andrew Wyeth and Mary Cassatt and brought in more than $3 million.

Loretta Lynn receives Presidential Medal of Freedom: The Butcher Hollow native and queen of country music added to her trophy cabinet when President Barack Obama awarded Lynn the nation's highest civilian honor.

Lexington Tattoo Project goes big in a different way: To the best anyone can figure, it was a unique idea: have a writer pen a poem, get more than 200 people to have portions of it tattooed onto their bodies, and then bring it all together for a final image. That's what Lexington artists Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova did with the Lexington Tattoo Project, featuring the poem The ______ of the Universe by Bianca Spriggs. The project ultimately spanned more than a year and brought about a sense of community in the participants. It's being emulated elsewhere, too, with Gohde and Todorova helping Boulder, Colo., launch a similar project.

Les Misérables by UK Opera Theatre: For the second straight year, the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre owned a few weeks on the arts calendar by presenting a full production of a classic late 20th-century musical at the Lexington Opera House. Following the 2012 production of The Phantom of the Opera, UK Opera presented Les Misérables in a highly regarded production that, for the second consecutive fall, made musical theater an event in Lexington. It was the first time the musical had been staged in Central Kentucky in its full form. Director Everett McCorvey conceded in October that there probably aren't any other titles that will command the zeal of Phantom and Les Miz, but they established UK Opera as a group that can attract masses.

Lexington Children's Theatre marks 75 years: We once joked that Lexington Children's Theatre had reached retirement age. It is now well past that as the longest-running arts organization in Lexington and the city's only fully professional theater. Most distinctive for current audiences is that producing director Larry Snipes, artistic director Vivian Snipes and their staff have carved out a distinct identity for their theater, whose reach now stretches far beyond Lexington.

Historic Kentucky Theatre goes digital: To keep up with the changing film distribution market, The Kentucky installed digital projectors at the beginning of summer as part of an ongoing renovation of the 91-year-old Main Street movie house.

Jennifer Lawrence makes the A-List: It seems that we have been in the year of Louisville's J. Law for several years now. This was the year she picked up her first Academy Award (and Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award and every other award) for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook. She was back in full force this fall with another turn as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and talk of another Oscar for her performance in David O. Russell's American Hustle.

Lawrence isn't just enjoying a great career though. It's distinctive in the ways she handles herself in public and the mettle of the women she's playing. If you're excited that the Wonder Woman movie got green-lit, thank Lawrence's Katniss a bit for proving a woman can lead a blockbuster action flick.

Festival of the Bluegrass marks 40 years: The annual bluegrass music festival is, in one way, a family affair, the vision of Bob and Jean Cornett, now carried on by their grandson Roy and his wife, AnnaMarie. But it also has established itself as a premier bluegrass music event nationwide, and the 40th edition honored its legacy with the Masters of Bluegrass, including J.D. Crowe and Del McCoury, and emerging artists such as 23 String Band. It was complemented this year by the debut of the Best of Bluegrass, or BoB, which brought local and national bluegrass artists to Lexington venues.

Jimmy Rose on America's Got Talent: Let's be clear, this Pineville singer-songwriter was on nobody's radar until he took a stage in New Orleans to audition for America's Got Talent with his original song Coal Keeps the Lights On. The heartfelt tune by the Iraq War veteran introduced the nation to a Kentucky talent before we even really got to know him. Rose fell short of the win on AGT, but he earned praise from the show's judges, performed with country music heroes like Dierks Bentley and ended up performing on the AGT tour.

Who knows where he will take the show next? According to his Facebook page, his recent performances have centered on Eastern Kentucky. But now, he has something to build on.

AcoUstiKats on The Sing-Off: No sooner had we finished watching Rose's America's Got Talent run than we heard that UK's male a cappella ensemble, the acoUstiKats, had made it onto NBC's competition The Sing-Off. Like Rose, they made an auspicious debut and then had an up-and-down ride before being dismissed short of winning the competition.

But has any other Lexington-based artist had the audience acoUstiKats commanded? The Sing-Off drew about 5 million viewers an episode, well outpacing the few thousand who would hear the acoUstiKats in UK's Christmas Collage concerts and other events. Achieving that spotlight, the UK group acquitted itself well, asserting its classically trained chops and entertainment value.

Who knows how the college group, which changes membership each semester, will build on this. But certainly many more people know who the acoUstiKats are and have had a taste of Lexington musicians.

EKU Center for the Arts achieves clarity: Court records revealed that the inaugural season of the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts was marred by mismanagement, resulting in the attempted dismissal and eventual resignation of director Debra Hoskins in 2012. Hoskins, who now directs the Grand Theatre in Lancaster, disputes EKU's assessment of her work. The center, now in its third season, has moved on, naming Jared Aalberts as director in July.

Horse Cave Theatre closes: After 36 years, Kentucky Repertory Theatre at Horse Cave, once known as Horse Cave Theatre, closed. The professional theater in the small Western Kentucky town had numerous Lexington ties, including former artistic director Robert Brock and actor and writer Walter May. Both were well away from the theater during its past few years as it struggled with finances and management.

Lexingtonians on Broadway: A few Lexington natives achieved the career goal of performing on Broadway this year. They include School for the Creative and Performing Arts graduate Rebecca Covington in Motown the Musical and Brooklyn Shuck, daughter of former WKYT chief meteorologist T.G. Shuck, who joined the cast of the revival of Annie at age 8.

Stories to be continued ...

Some stories started in 2013, but we will certainly continue to follow them in 2014.

LexArts chief steps down: After more than a decade heading Lexington's umbrella arts organization, Jim Clark announced he would retire to focus on promoting public art in Lexington. Clark has certainly redefined the group during his tenure, including changing its name from the Lexington Arts and Culture Council. The choice of his successor will speak volumes about where Lexington arts go from here.

Discord at the Philharmonic: After years seeming to rise above the travails of other orchestras nationwide, the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra succumbed to a labor dispute that came within a day of scuttling September's season opener. Unlike many other negotiations centered on compensation, the issues are focused more on tensions between the musicians and music director Scott Terrell, who has been in the post since 2009. The strike was avoided when both sides agreed to a time out, but it appears the issues will still be there when negotiations resume next year.

SummerFest moves: The outdoor theater festival struggled in The Arboretum this year, and this month it announced it would move to the MoonDance at Midnight Pass amphitheater in the Beaumont neighborhood. SummerFest directors say the venue's permanent infrastructure will help the theater focus on productions. We'll see whether audiences follow.

Theater continues to evolve: During the past few years, a number of new troupes companies have emerged, including Project SEE Theatre, and others have reconstituted, such as Actors Guild of Lexington. The landscape continues to evolve as some appear to do better than others. That will continue to be something to watch, as will the status of the publicly owned Downtown Arts Center, which has seen many dark nights since Actors Guild moved to the suburbs.

The Living Arts and Science Center gets extreme makeover: The 166-year-old Kinkead house has been bursting with all the activities the LASC presents there. This year, the arts and science group announced plans to expand and renovate, and a $5 million capital campaign. At year's end, $4.2 million has been raised, and groundbreaking is set for March on the expanded facility that will include Lexington's only planetarium.