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This Kentucky Arts Council event highlights COVID-19 and western Ky. tornado impacts on the state’s arts

Artist Brent McKinney walks away from the wreckage that once was the Ice House Gallery, home to the Mayfield/Graves County Art Guild. It took a direct hit from the December tornadoes.
Artist Brent McKinney walks away from the wreckage that once was the Ice House Gallery, home to the Mayfield/Graves County Art Guild. It took a direct hit from the December tornadoes.

The Kentucky Arts Council hosts a celebration of the state’s arts and culture sector this week. 

The state agency is calling it Arts Day(s) in Kentucky. It will feature virtual events like a panel discussion of local Hispanic and Latin American visual artists, a workshop about funding opportunities and discussions with leaders of cultural groups impacted by the deadly December tornadoes in western Kentucky. 

The annual event has traditionally been a single day of performances and demonstrations at the State Capitol Building in Frankfort to connect artists and arts organizations with lawmakers. 

“It's important for those people to be in contact with their statewide representatives to make that connection that the arts are being supported by the state in their local communities,” said Emily Moses, executive staff advisor for the Kentucky Arts Council. 

The face-to-face time humanizes the impacts of public funding for the arts in Kentucky, she continued.

But COVID-19 has shifted the focus, and the event will be held online for a second year. 

“We wanted to make sure, throughout the pandemic, that we took every opportunity possible to really shine a spotlight on the effects of the pandemic on the arts community as a whole,” Moses said.

They also wanted to showcase artists who have continued to share their work in spite of the challenges of the past few years. 

A few of the discussions during Arts Day(s) will also highlight how artists and arts organizations continue to feel the effects of the tornadoes that swept through western Kentucky in December. 

The Ice House Gallery in Mayfield, Ky., which is home to the Mayfield/Graves County Art Guild and an arts staple in the area, took a direct hit, devastating large portions of the building and much of the art inside. 

“We’re trying to deal just with what we can do one day at a time,” Ice House director Nanc Gunn told WFPL News in December, more than a week after the storm.

On Thursday, Gunn will speak about recovery efforts at the Ice House, along with Lexie Millikan, who directs the Yeiser Art Center in Paducah. 

Their discussion will be followed by a conversation with scholars and curators Maxine Ray and Wathetta Buford, as well as Kentucky Museum director Brent Bjorkman, to talk about the efforts to recover artifacts and documents from the African American Museum in Bowling Green following the December tornadoes.

Moses said the arts community in western Kentucky has rallied to try to find a way to move forward together, but they’re facing immense challenges.

“There are many resources that were already strained, actually most resources were already strained from the pandemic,” she said. “And there are always funding challenges for nonprofit arts organizations in Kentucky, always. So when you couple those things with an additional issue, especially one as large as the tornado was, there are lots of questions.” 

The Kentucky Arts Council has begun assessing the extent of the impacts on western Kentucky arts in the wake of the storms. They’ve been conducting interviews with individual artists and leaders of arts organizations in the region, Moses said. They also sent out a survey, and all of that work is ongoing.

Arts council staff understands, “that this recovery will be expansive, it will be years,” and that basic needs are still a challenge for many in western Kentucky, Moses said. 

“We feel it's important right now, for us, to go ahead and collect information and learn about the needs in the area,” Moses said, “and hopefully share that information so the people in those decision-making roles about providing funding will be aware of what's there.”

Arts Day(s) in Kentucky runs Wednesday through Friday online. You can register for events here.

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