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New Initiative Focused On Equity In The Arts Launches In Louisville

Louisville-area visual artist Marlesha Woods works on a painting.
Courtesy Marlesha Woods
Louisville-area visual artist Marlesha Woods works on a painting.

Louisville-area artists could get a boost to their professional lives with the help of a new program focused on equity in the creative sector. 

The effort is via Lodgic Everyday Community, a nonprofit business that runs coworking, childcare, food and beverage, and event and office space services. Lodgic is new to the city and hosted its grand opening Saturday, which marked the launch of the Equity in Arts program. 

Visual artist Marlesha Woods directs the new initiative, which will be open to artists of all disciplines. 

She said this is more than a mentorship program, though that will be a small part of it. Rather, it’s a platform for artists to build their careers through paid opportunities and access to resources.

“Because when you say, artists can be mentored, and only leave it there, it still gives the framework that there's a competency issue, that there's a group of people that have been disenfranchised, and it's somewhat their fault,” Woods said. “But the reality is it's not really [a competency] issue. It’s an access issue.” 

“Competent, capable people” get pushed out of a number of sectors, including the arts, said Woods, who has also analyzed the racial-economic disparities among public art commissions in Louisville Metro. She wants this program to play a significant role in stopping that from happening.

Woods first came into contact with Lodgic when a representative from the group reached out to her about creating a mural “that would speak to a stronger statement to say, ‘We want all people/groups to be welcome in this space.’” 

Initially, she was reluctant. 

The organization’s Louisville location is in NuLu, an area of the city that has been heavily gentrified as developers gobbled up buildings

“When you're centered in a pocket of the city with so much controversy, the question is, how can you do good? How can you reach people?” Woods said. “How can you make sure that it's authentic instead of just giving a statement... like many organizations did last year?”

A conversation about an art commission transitioned into talks about how to create an equitable space for artists and how to use the arts as a lens to address inequities in other industries.

“We're using the art as a conduit for catalyzing transformative change in the city,” Woods said, adding that the work will start within Lodgic’s walls working with staff.  

Louisville is Lodgic Everyday Community’s third location. It’s become a part of the company’s process to curate and collect art from artists in the area to display at each facility. 

CEO Cheryl Farr said, each time, they put out calls for artists and have noticed a troublesome pattern: the “vast majority” of artists responding to the call are white and, when they need do outreach seeking a more representative group of artists, artists of color asked for compensation that was “a fraction of what their more privileged counterparts were asking.”

That was a red flag to her that, “There's just something wrong here.”

She said she was not aware of the history of NuLu when they selected the location several years ago. But she’s been learning about it since, and things began to coalesce as she and Woods engaged in conversations about the area and the arts world. 

“Really we're seeing this as truly the evolution of our Community Artists and Everyday Access Grants program into real action… At our heart, Lodgic Workplaces is about lifting up entrepreneurs,” Farr said. “And so we have access to a lot of resources that we can help artists create that platform and have that voice and that representation they may not have in other channels.”

Woods added that, if the mission of Lodgic is “to do a little good everyday,” then it’s important to examine what that truly means, especially when based in a community like NuLu.  

“To create good here, I do not want to come out the gate not speaking to the true history of NuLu, the historical context, the cultural context, all of that matters,” she said. 

Piloted in Louisville, the Lodgic Equity in Arts program will expand to have a national reach.

Farr said “the goal is to commit” $1 million to the Equity in Arts program over the next three and a half years, “and to scale it nationally across all our locations; three now, more to come.”

A call for the Louisville Lodgic Lab Artists-in-Residency will go live in late November, Woods said. The program will launch its first cohort of artists in early 2022.