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New Arts Council Executive Director Talks Future Plans, Artist Concerns

Kentucky Arts Council

Earlier this month, the Kentucky Arts Council voted to make Lydia Bailey Brown the council’s new executive director.

The change followed Gov. Matt Bevin’s dismissal of all but four of the council’s previous members and reduction of the size of the council from 16 to 15 people. Bevin also accepted the resignation of former executive director Lori Meadows, although sources say she was pushed out.

Raised by a working folk artist, Bailey Brown went on to study painting and theater at The College of William and Mary and received an M.B.A. in arts administration and marketing from Binghamton University in New York.  Alongside a career in arts, cultural and nonprofit management, she has worked as an arts educator for nearly four decades. She also worked in leadership and consulted for museums and cultural destinations throughout the U.S.

I spoke with Bailey Brown about how her experiences in the arts shaped her view on the diverse cultural landscape of Kentucky, and how she is responding to artists who are concerned the council’s more entrepreneurial focus will prioritize commercial over creative value. You can listen in the audio player above.

On how her experience in both fine and folk arts shaped her view on the wide range of arts in Kentucky:

"First and foremost, I am excited when I see experience and am around the arts in Kentucky -- specifically because of the quality of artists and artistry that we have in this state. And I think that I react as much as an artist and lover of arts and consumer of arts in my life, as much as I do as an arts professional."

On her hopes for Kentucky Arts and Tourism:

"One of my goals is for our agencies to work more collaboratively when we are defining tourism and marketing tourism, both within the state and for visitors to the state. Whereas so many folks from outside of Kentucky understand there’s a lot Kentucky offers in the bourbon industry, in the great outdoors and the beauty of the state, and in the equine industry, I want to make sure that we are truly branding ourselves accurately. We are an arts state. This is an arts and culture state."

On artists concerned the new entrepreneurial focus of the council will prioritize commercial over creative value in the arts:

"It’s not an either-or scenario, Ashlie. I will say this, there is not in any way a greater importance that will be placed on income from or for artists. That has always been important to the arts council -- to help in professional development of artists that are working to pay their bills. But that in no way takes away from the important programs in arts education, that we want to grow, that we want to strengthen, that we want to diversify. Or takes away from our focus on artistic excellence.

"What I wonder if maybe there is the occasional quote that others have made that was taken as the entirety of their focus; that’s certainly not the entirety of the arts council’s focus."