Fayette County

‘Mother’ of UK Singletary Center: Holly Salisbury, leader in Lexington arts, culture dies

Holly Salisbury speaks during a Herald-Leader interview on Oct. 4, 2004.
Holly Salisbury speaks during a Herald-Leader interview on Oct. 4, 2004. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Holly Salisbury, the founding director once described as the “mother” of the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center of the Arts, has died.

“She loved the arts, and was a true champion for the Singletary Center and made it what it is today,” said Tanya Harper, the Singletary Center’s production director, in a tribute on Facebook. “There would be no Singletary Center without her. She always used to tell us the story of how she started with a telephone in the middle of the floor, no furniture in the office.”

Salisbury led the Singletary Center for more than 25 years, from the time it opened in 1979 until her retirement in 2005. In that time, she created several educational programs for children in Central Kentucky and helped bring hundreds of concerts and events to the UK venue and to Lexington.

“She is like the mother of the Singletary Center,” Rhoda Gale Pollock, a former UK theater professor and dean of the College of Fine Arts from 1992 to 1998, told the Herald-Leader in 2005.

Salisbury brought many famous musicians like Yo-Yo Ma, Ella Fitzgerald and Andy Williams to the Singletary Center but her influence spread even further. For example, she helped inspire the career of one of the founding members of the alternative rock band the Scissor Sisters: Scott Hoffman, also known as Babydaddy.

“She encouraged me to be creative, whether it was sitting around drawing or encouraging me to play music,” Hoffman, who was friends with Salisbury’s son Brent, told the Herald-Leader in 2004.

After retiring from the Singletary Center Salisbury continued to teach art in the community, according to Harper.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray praised Salisbury Sunday for her contribution to the Lexington arts community.

“From its very beginning in 1979, the Singletary Center was inspired by the leadership of Holly Buckner Salisbury,” Gray said. “And throughout her life she represented the epitome of the Renaissance spirit; she lifted up and encouraged artists and the arts in every dimension across Lexington and Central Kentucky for decades.”

Salisbury experienced complications from a July surgery, according to a post on Caringbridge.org. She was 74.

“Her smile and her laugh was infectious,” Harper said in her post. “Her scolding was more like a mother’s disappointment. It made us want to be better people. And better leaders and stewards for the arts. I hope we made her proud.”