Back in 1994, Maury Sparrow, communications director for LexArts, remembers that other than a University of Kentucky men’s basketball home game, there weren’t very many events that seemed to motivate thousands of people to consistently venture to downtown Lexington – especially for anything related to the visual arts.
Then, Nancy Wolsk, then director of Transylvania University’s Morlan Gallery, along with gallery owner Heike Pickett, art dealer Linda Schwartz and Michelle Lancaster, program coordinator for the then-named Lexington Arts and Cultural Council, brought their creativity and ambition together to organize the first-ever Gallery Hop.
“They said, ‘We need something to open up the world of visual arts, so why don’t we all open our doors on the same night,’” Sparrow said. “It was just something different.”
People could roam on their own from one location to another, exploring art and the city. Now expanded to include studios and other venues, the LexArts HOP will once again bring people together downtown on July 19 as it celebrates its 25th anniversary.
The first-ever “hop” took place on Sept. 16, 1994, and hit the ground running. Nearly 2,500 people came to downtown Lexington to visit 22 galleries, museums, studios and supporting venues.
Now, each event on the third Friday of every other month beginning in January (with new exhibits at each participating venue) draws an average of 6,000 people, exposing more and more people to the visual arts while contributing to the success of its galleries and studios.
“I think it really did help with the idea that the downtown was fun again and there was something happening,” Sparrow said. “When you get people down here, it makes a difference.”
This week’s HOP will have 41 different stops, most of which will be providing some form of appetizers and refreshments. Visitors will be exposed to multiple types of visual art and in some cases be able to interact the artist behind the works.
Sparrow said the HOP has always provided a platform for local artists to thrive.
“I think one of the challenges for a lot of creatives is how to market their art,” he said. “If we can bring people down and the artist is in the studio or the gallery that night, you kind of get to know the artist and appreciate their art first, get them a little bit and start to appreciate their art more and more every time.”
For the past 25 years, the LexArts HOP has provided a boost and has become a fixture of Lexington’s visual arts and social scenes, to the pleasant surprise of everyone involved.
“I think that it’s to the point where it runs itself. People know those dates and subconsciously have that in their calendar,” Sparrow said. “It just works.”
If you go: LexArts HOP 25 Celebration
When: July 19, 5 to 8 p.m.
Where: Downtown Lexington For a guide to locations, go to galleryhoplex.com