Arts presenters have plenty left to plan for World Equestrian Games

With the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games now less than a year away, Lexington arts and entertainment presenters are jockeying for position in what could be a crowded field of events during the 16-day competition, which is expected to draw 300,000 visitors to Central Kentucky.

But what exactly those events will be is about as clear as the field for next year's Kentucky Derby.

"Everyone is confident things are proceeding the way they are supposed to be proceeding," says University of Kentucky Opera Theatre director Everett McCorvey, who has just been named producer of the WEG opening and closing ceremonies, scheduled for Sept. 25 and Oct. 10, 2010. "But people don't want to say just yet what they are doing because there's still a year to go."

Indeed, even McCorvey cannot get into specifics. He talks about ambitions to field a World Equestrian Games Festival Orchestra, with members drawn from major groups around the world under the direction of UK Symphony director John Nardolillo. In addition to the ceremonies, McCorvey hopes to stage a major work such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in Lexington before the musicians disperse back across the globe.

But where will it be? When will it be? Those are still big questions about most arts and entertainment events as tickets go on sale for the Games.

"I have several things on the table, but nothing I can announce publicly, yet," says Lexington Opera House general manager Luanne Franklin, echoing the positions of virtually all of her colleagues who run performance venues in Lexington. "I know we will be busy all three weekends of the Games and during the weeks."

The firmest items at this point are visual arts.

5 art exhibits planned

We know that LexArts will bring HorseMania back, filling the streets of Lexington and even the WEG site, the Kentucky Horse Park, with painted fiberglass horses, last seen in Lexington en masse in 2000.

The International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park will have the major exhibit A Gift From the Desert: The Art, History and Culture of the Arabian Horse from May to October of next year.

And The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky is currently gathering pieces for Hoofbeats and Heartbeats: The Horse in American Art, an original exhibit that will be presented during WEG.

For those who will have maybe had enough of horses but want a distinct taste of other Central Kentucky culture, the Lexington Art League will host its second biennial of works by regional artists at the LAL @ Loudon House gallery, and LexArts will present an exhibition of works by Kentucky artists at the ArtsPlace gallery.

From there, presenters talk more about structures for events than specific events or performers.

Big ideas

Alltech corporate counsel Thomas B. Stephens, who has been directing the Games' Fortnight Festival of entertainment around the state, says he sees WEG entertainment in terms of what will be happening at the Games site, major concerts and events in Lexington, Games-related entertainment outside Lexington and creating a fun atmosphere at restaurants and other businesses downtown.

To that end, he and Games director Kelly Rice Welker, an artist in her own right, plan to have a directory of artists and venues created for the Games program.

"We want to tell restaurants and bars downtown, go get that musician or that band you want to get, even if you don't usually have entertainment, and we will give you space in our program to help drive business to you," Stephens says. "We are not presenting a free street festival. We want to drive business to area establishments."

City to handle street fest

The street festival aspect will be handled by the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government with the Spotlight Lexington Festival, scheduled to start Sept. 24, 2010, the day before the Games begin, and be presented at Triangle Park, Cheapside Park and the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza.

Spotlight director Krista Greathouse says her office received more than 90 applications to perform during the Games, and she plans to start announcing key performers in October. She also said the festival poster will be unveiled Oct. 1. ("It's absolutely beautiful, by a local artist," Greathouse says.)

Spotlight, she says, will be designed to create a festive, lively atmosphere for visitors who are downtown when they are not attending events at the Games.

But some question what the appetite for extracurricular entertainment will be.

How much is enough?

Several presenters are trying to get a handle on how many arts and entertainment offerings will be too many or too few for people who come in for the Games and area residents.

"Normally I'm very optimistic, and I don't want to sound like Chicken Little here, but my fear is that if we have a Rupp Arena-level event, and a Singletary Center-level event and an Opera House-level event all on the same night for multiple nights, you may end up with a lot of empty seats," says Michael Grice, director of the Singletary Center for the Arts at UK .

Jim Clark, president and CEO of LexArts, says, "If groups just do what they normally do at this time of year, we'll have a pretty busy schedule. If we focus on and market what's going on without inventing a whole lot of other things, we'll be fine."

Indeed, this time of year, just as the fall arts season gets under way, sees most downtown Lexington venues busy. This weekend, for example, there are at least four theatrical productions, several concerts in theaters and clubs, and numerous gallery and museum exhibits on the calendar. All this weekend lacks is a major concert at Rupp Arena.

But there will be more going on next year.

Showing Kentucky's best

Since the Games were announced, arts and entertainment groups and venues have looked to WEG as a chance for Central Kentucky performers and presenters to put their best feet forward. People who have been involved with preliminary events say that's what they sense visitors will want.

Stephens and Welker recall being in the Kentucky Village at the Alltech FEI European Jumping and Dressage Championship at Windsor Castle in England last month.

"There was this bluegrass band, and they were British, but they were really good, and when they started to play, people were up and clapping and dancing, and people were asking us, 'Is this what it's going to be like in Kentucky?'" Stephens says.

McCorvey, who was on the trip to England, says, "The Europeans are very curious, and they ask a lot of questions. They will want to explore."

For those tastes of indigenous music, McCorvey says he is definitely looking for outstanding folk and bluegrass music for the ceremonies, and Clark says LexArts is going to be working with Red Barn Radio producer Ed Commons to put together bluegrass nights at ArtsPlace.

But they also aim to show off other arts, from rock bands to dance to theater to classical music and other forms.

Franklin said she had a message Friday afternoon from a woman coming to town for the Games with some friends, already wanting to know what sorts of events will be happening at the Opera House.

That information will be forthcoming.

No need to worry

"If this was a community that scheduled things 24 months in advance, I might be a bit concerned" that there aren't more specific announced plans yet, Clark said. "Since they are starting to sell tickets, it would be nice to be able to start promoting some events."

Grice, at the Singletary Center, says most performers do not like to book more than a year out, so he is not surprised that there aren't more specific plans.

Several organizers, including Alltech's Stephens, say they are aiming for just after the first of the year to star announcing major WEG entertainment events.

Greathouse also says plans seem to be on track. "We'll be ready," she says. "We'll be ready."