Exploring Louisville’s Art Scene

Exploring Louisville's downtown art scene, NuLu & beyond

There were many exciting art events happening in our corner of Pennsylvania this past weekend. Makoto Fujimura (artist, writer, founder of the International Arts Movement) made an appearance in Lancaster to speak on the thesis for his new book, while his artwork appeared in the Square Halo gallery. Kate and I have been following Fujimura for years and recently traveled to Carin University to see his join exhibit with Bruce Herman, QU4RTETS, and to listen to them speak on the project.

Michael Card was at Living Water Community Church in Harrisburg for his Biblical Imagination conference, followed by a concert. Kate and I had the opportunity to hear him speak at Union University in Tennessee a few years back and have both read his book, Scribbling in the Sand. Plus we’ve gotten to know Andrew Thomas, the Worship & Creative Arts Pastor at this church. He’s the one who organized the event and we would have loved to support him and spend time with him.

Finally, Kate just hung a solo show in downtown Lancaster—her third concurrent show (she also has solo shows in Lebanon and Harrisburg). The opening for that show was on Friday evening.

It wasn’t an ideal weekend to be out of town.

But other exciting adventures awaited as we spent four days in the Louisville area visiting with family. When traveling, we like to introduce art into our plans in one way or another. Sometimes we take time to create, while other times we make time to learn and explore.

During our last visit to Louisville we did some exploring. We were there during a First Friday and as a result there were many options. Along with visiting a number of galleries, we visited Sojourn Community Church in the midtown area. There was a gallery (I say “was” because the gallery is no longer operating now that the church has moved to a new building) within a church building—The 930 Art Center. We had to be buzzed in and walk through the church hallways to reach the gallery, and that was a great thing because we had the pleasure of seeing a lot of artwork throughout their hallways. Their creativity with art in the church was beyond what I have witnessed and most exciting were the number of collaborative pieces.

Collaboration within the church
Collaborative pieces created by Sojourn Community Church

And as is often the case, we arrived between shows. Curator Michael Winters was hard at work putting up hundreds of small photographs. We were familiar with Michael as we heard him speak at the same conference where Michael Card spoke. It was a phonography show, meaning all photos were taken with cameras. There was one solo artist who had a number of larger pieces displayed, and there was a huge grid of smaller photos submitted by a large number of folks. Michael and an intern were in the process of thumbtacking the grid of smaller photos to the wall. It was a slow process but he took the time to chat with us for a few minutes. It was right around lunchtime and he invited us to go out for pizza with him. The three of us plus the intern (sadly, I forget his name) all piled into a car and drove to a local pizza shop where we sat at an outdoor table. It was a beautiful day. And so began our lunch with Michael Winters. We were privileged to talk art with him and specifically asked about their church-wide collaborations, some of which we had seen on our way into the gallery. He was very gracious and we assured him we’d be there again the next day for the opening.

Sojourn Community Church exterior and 930 Art Center interior
Sojourn Community Church and The 930 Art Center

As for this past weekend, we found ourselves in Louisville on a First Friday once again. And once again we went exploring. But our experience was totally difference this year as we now have a baby. Hanging out downtown late into Friday evening was off the list. Instead we went during the afternoon and hit NuLu. More formerly known as the East Market District, NuLu is where many of the city’s galleries and boutique shops are located.

Kentucky’s largest art museum, The Speed Art Museum, is located in Louisville. However it’s in the middle of a three-year expansion and is closed. In the meantime they’ve set up a temporary location in NuLu which they call Local Speed. Our experience began with filling out the “Before I die…” chalkboard covering the main facade. Inside featured glass-based works by New Orleans-based artists, Stephen Paul Day and Sibylle Peretti, along with featured items from The Leight Collection—an eclectic display of glass pieces owned by Adele and Leonard Leight. It was a fascinating exhibit and one I’m sure I would have appreciated even more had I been familiar with the complexities, subtleties, and challenges of working with glass. There were two other smaller exhibits, and running in the back corner was a video explaining the story behind each exhibit. While this could destroy the contemplative nature of some exhibit spaces, this temporary space didn’t have the classic distraction-free, sterile feel of a traditional museum anyway. It had painted block walls and fairly low ceilings. It’s more of an interactive community space, and they’ve smartly treated it as such.

Local Speed Museum
Local Speed, Louisville, Kentucky

We also hit PYRO Gallery and Zephyr Gallery, the former focusing on mixed-media paintings by Kim Huber, the latter featuring works by Matt Lynch and Chris Vorhees that were largely manipulated every day objects with a twist.

Artwork by Matt Lynch and Chris Vorhees
Pieces from a collaborative show by Matt Lynch and Chris Vorhees, on display at Zephyr Gallery

But in addition to the expected fine art fare, design made an appearance. As we have no shame in being tourists, we boldly headed into the Why Louisville souvenirs and curiosities shop. It had its share of kitsch and hipster doodads, but whereas most city-based t-shirts feature fairly poor designs, these were outstanding. Plus there were posters for sale that portrayed the various downtown districts in a very well-designed series. I learned their designs are created by local artists and that some of them, in museum-type fashion, are exclusive to the store.

I’m not saying Louisville is the destination for big city art. But I am encouraging you to explore the art scene in the cities you visit. Louisville is definitely doing some things right—and I’m excited to one day visit the finished Speed Art Museum during one of our future explorations.

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