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$100K gift establishing an endowment helps secure Josephine Sculpture Park’s future

A sculpture by artist Michael Bigger at the Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort.
A sculpture by artist Michael Bigger at the Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort.

A $100,000 gift has established an endowment for the Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort. 

Announced during a press conference at the park Thursday, it’s been named the Rebecca Fund after philanthropists Hank and Rebecca Conn who gave the donation that inaugurated it.

“This is different for us,” Hank Conn said of the investment during a press conference at the park Thursday. “And we really are proud of it.”

Artist Melanie VanHouten founded the nonprofit sculpture park on land that had been her grandparents’ farm. The park, named after VanHouten’s grandmother, features a rotating collection of more than 80 artworks throughout the 30-acre property. 

“Even as a child, I knew that my grandparents 100-acre tobacco farm was a really magical place.” VanHouten said during Thursday’s press conference. “It was ripe for childhood exploration. I had free rein out here to just roam the hills and the meadows, the wooded glades and the open grasslands… I made exciting discoveries about the natural world along the way.”

VanHouten wants the park to be a way for people to connect with nature and others through art, and believes this endowment will secure its future. She also intends to increase it to $2.5 million over three years, she said. 

Endowments are different from other one-time financial donations. The principal of an endowment is invested, and initially, only a small portion is spent, with the rest being allowed to accrue interest. Over time, the intent is that other donors will add to the endowment, so the organization can spend the interest only, leaving the donations to continue growing.

“And in the years following, even more, so that the future of this amazing place is secured in perpetuity,” she said.

The JSP investment committee of the board of directors will manage the endowment. 

“We want to continue to grow the park and its footprint,” VanHouten continued. 

The Conns, who live in Atlanta, have deep roots in Kentucky and Louisville, which they say is what, in part, motivated them to give the establishing donation. Rebecca Conn, who grew up in Louisville, has many happy memories of spending time on her grandparents’ farm in Kentucky. Hank Conn graduated from University of Louisville, and the university’s Conn Center for Renewable Energy bears the couple’s name to acknowledge their significant financial support. 

Conn promised he and his wife are committed to the park’s success.

“Unless hell freezes over, I think we’re in this for the long haul,” he said. 

Kentucky First Lady Britainy Beshear also spoke during the press conference. She said she and her family have visited the park a number of times, “especially during COVID, it was a wonderful place to be.”

“Arts are for everyone,” she said. “We need spaces where we can spark our creativity. Spending time in the presence of art, creating our own helps us learn more about ourselves. And really, I think what we have learned through several crises in Kentucky, it helps process what we're feeling, it connects us to the world around us and it opens us up to new perspectives.” 

She added that art is particularly critical for children, saying, “it gives them an opportunity to find a voice, especially when, as kids, you don't often find that anybody's listening.”

VanHouten said they’ve already had a donation come in for the endowment. 

Louisville investor and philanthropist Brook Smith, who recently purchased Hadley Pottery to save it from going under and was in Frankfort for the JSP press conference, pledged $25,000 toward the Rebecca Fund Thursday.

Stephanie Wolf is LPM's Arts & Culture Reporter. Email Stephanie at swolf@lpm.org.