The rejuvenation of downtown Lexington is exciting. Those of us who remember when downtown was a thriving community are thrilled by plans for its revival, not as the shopping center it used to be, but as an exciting place to live, to visit and to enjoy.
With amazing frequency, stories appear of what will, or what could, happen downtown, and discussions swirl around the development of the Civic Center, the future of the courthouse, the arrival of 21C Hotel Museum, the CentrePointe project and changes that are happening all the way from Manchester Street to the corner of Rose and Main.
The crowds at Thursday Night Live, and the proliferation of fine restaurants demonstrate that things are changing, without even waiting for the blessings of the planners and developers.
We are concerned, however, by the scant attention that has been paid to the need for a first-class art museum in Lexington.
Most communities the size of Lexington, or even smaller, have flourishing art museums. There are several excellent art galleries, but they cannot substitute for a museum with a developing permanent collection and focused programs of education and enrichment.
Actually, there is already a real art museum near the heart of Lexington at the University of Kentucky. It's one of only three professionally-accredited museums in the state and it offers a remarkable permanent collection, including works that would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace, given their value and scarcity.
The Art Museum is for everyone, not just the UK students. It is tax-supported and its mission, drawn up in the 1970s when it was first created, clearly states that the museum serves the entire commonwealth.
The problem is that this gem of an attraction is hard to find.
Tucked away in a corner of the Singletary Center for the Arts, the museum has been held hostage by its location for decades.
Even if a visitor can find it, there are almost no convenient parking spaces; recent campus construction has only complicated the problem.
The museum has outgrown its physical space for collection storage, exhibition display, programming and staff offices. In its present setting, it cannot move forward and become a highly visible attraction for either students or its larger, equally important regional public. It cannot fulfill its mission to become a cultural anchor of Lexington.
We urge that as planning proceeds for the future of the heart of the city, serious and in-depth consideration be given to developing a downtown art museum that matches Lexington's aspirations.
This museum should be a cooperative undertaking of the university and the city; the Arboretum is a remarkable model of effective town-gown partnership. The art collection already housed at the university will get the museum off to a good start in its new site, and its downtown location will bring great benefit to the community.
Visibility and accessibility to citizens and visitors are crucial, so discussion needs to proceed immediately on the location of the museum and how it fits in with other planned developments. Community and university leaders will also need to address funding for both the development and the operation of the museum. The challenges are real, but so is this opportunity to bring a substantive, much-needed presence to downtown Lexington.