Visual Arts

Rich Copley: Colleague Tom Eblen deserves recognition for arts advocacy

THE SING OFF -- Episode 401 -- Pictured: acoUstiKats -- (Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC) THE SING OFF -- Episode 401 -- Pictured: acoUstiKats -- (Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC)
THE SING OFF -- Episode 401 -- Pictured: acoUstiKats -- (Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC) THE SING OFF -- Episode 401 -- Pictured: acoUstiKats -- (Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC)

Most arts and entertainment writers probably don't interact with their newspaper's metro columnist as much as I do.

There are stereotypes of city columnists: grizzled cynics hanging around city hall and police precincts, ink-stained fingers clutching a wrinkled notebook as they salivate over the next scandal.

No doubt, since Tom Eblen became the Herald-Leader's metro columnist in 2008, he has written his fair share of hard-hitting pieces about the foibles of public officials.

But he also recognized from the beginning that art is an integral thread in the fabric of Central Kentucky and has incorporated it into his columns and blog posts, which comprise one of the most diverse bodies of coverage any Bluegrass journalist has assembled.

That is why it is no surprise to me to get emails and phone calls from Tom making sure we are not overlapping our coverage.

That is also why it was no surprise to learn he is the recipient of the media award in the 2013 Governor's Awards in the Arts. The awards, which will be presented by Gov. Steve Beshear on Tuesday morning in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort, are the commonwealth's highest honor in the arts.

That the Kentucky Arts Council and the governor recognized Tom's contribution from a nontraditional place is serendipitous; Tom comes at his arts coverage from a nontraditional perspective.

His columns include numerous ones focused on Lexington-area visual artists including Lina Tharsing, John Lackey and Bruce Burris; writers including Silas House and Wendell Berry; and even musicians such as University of Kentucky impresario Everett McCorvey, roots cellist Ben Sollee and Eblen's own beloved Lafayette High School Marching Band.

Tom's high school background in Lafayette's iconic band is one kernel of evidence that his attention would be focused, at least partially, on art as he took on the role of columnist. There are also his photographs, which he shoots with a keen eye for detail and form.

Tom and I arrived at the Herald-Leader within months of each other in 1998, both coming by way of Georgia — he was in Atlanta and I was in Athens. Tom's first post here was as managing editor, and he was part of the consistent support for arts coverage at the Herald-Leader — which, trust me, is far from universal in the daily newspaper world.

Arts coverage is low on the priority list at many dailies and has fallen victim in recent years to budget cuts across the country, but it has enjoyed genuine interest from management at this paper. During his years in management, Tom was a huge part of that.

His move to columnist came at a critical time in our arts coverage, when we pared back from two full-time arts and culture writers to one, after Jamie Gumbrecht's departure in 2007. Had Tom not chosen to make arts part of his beat, there are many important stories that probably would not have been covered.

But as a columnist, he brings the perspective to places we don't always think of as artsy, in areas like business and government, which are big parts of his coverage.

Maybe the issue with which Tom has been most identified is the CentrePointe project, and his continued critique of the way it has been managed and the proposed structures for the now-grassy plot of downtown land. Much of that critique has to do with the interaction of government and business. But there is also a keen eye for design and a new structure's broad aesthetic impact on the city.

In a post to his blog in March reflecting on the five-year CentrePointe saga, Tom wrote, "People wanted more say in how their city looks. They didn't want Lexington's architectural heritage bulldozed at a developer's whim. Development occurs on private property, but everyone must look at it and live with it."

That's been an enormous part of Tom's award-winning contribution to our arts coverage: eyes and ears for what makes Lexington and Central Kentucky beautiful and interesting, and a platform to encourage us to build on that.