From scrappy upstarts to established cornerstones of our community, 2012 offered up more intriguing and exciting arts events than one person can even count. Here is my admittedly incomplete, with apologies to what I missed, in no certain order or rank, list of the year’s memorable arts events:
Nikky Finney, Sarabande Reading Series
The Lexington poet packed a gallery at 21C on a Monday night, with the crowd spilling out onto the sidewalk and standing in the rain to hear her powerful reading from her National Book Award-winning collection “Head Off & Split.”
“David (inspired by Michelangelo),” 21C Museum Hotel
No matter what you think of Serkan Ozkaya’s three-stories-tall, gold-painted replica of the David, there’s no denying he’s still turning heads on Main Street. 21C outdid itself on bringing art outside of its walls.
“Buried Child,” Bunbury Theatre Company
Sam Shepard’s “Buried Child” is a disorienting tragedy about the dissolution of the American family and the legacy of shame that causes one household to unravel and curl violently inward.This fantastic production delivered on all of Shepard’s wild promises thanks to a stand-out cast and an unwavering commitment to the American gothic.
“True West,” Actors Theatre of Louisville
2012 was a good year to be a Shepard fan in Louisville. Under Adam Rapp’s intense directorial eye, Nate Miller and William Apps turned in fearless performances as antagonistic brothers Austin and Lee in Shepard’s dark comedy about sibling rivalry, Hollywood and the romance of the open desert.
“The Aliens,” Theatre 
Directed by Mike Brooks, Annie Baker’s “The Aliens” featured delicate performances by Scott Anthony, Brandon Cox and Zachary Burrell in this Obie Award-winning play about the fragility of chosen families and the gentle geniuses our fast-paced society leaves behind.
Fanfara, Louisville Orchestra
After a canceled season and a prolonged labor dispute, the Louisville Orchestra returned to Whitney Hall with Fanfara, the traditional season opener concert. In part to thank their fans who hung in with them throughout a difficult year, Jorge Mester and Pops conductor Bob Bernhardt split conducting duties and the Orchestra played a bill of both classical and pops fare.
“Tosca,” The Kentucky Opera
Puccini’s enduring tragedy opened the Opera’s season with a bang. Gorgeous costumes, haunting sets and amazing performances by Kara Shay Thomson, Jon Burton and especially Michael Chioldi as the chilling villain Scarpia made “Tosca” a thrill for opera neophytes and aficionados alike.
“How We Got On,” Actors Theatre of Louisville
Idris Goodwin’s homage to the Golden Age of hip hop was a stand-out in Actors Theatre’s Humana Festival of New American Plays. This sweet and fresh coming of age story is a portrait of an artist as a young MC in the days when hip hop first came to the suburbs.
“Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present,” Flyover Film Festival and 21C Museum
The Louisville premiere of this groundbreaking documentary was followed by a talk by Abramovic about living the artist’s life. The screening kicked off the Flyover Film Festival, which presented an outstanding slate of short and feature films.
“Hollers and Harvests,” Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft
This exhibit explored the close ties folk artists have traditionally had with farming and agriculture with some unexpected twists. Curated by Cecilia Adwell, the exhibit mixed pieces from KMAC’s permanent collection with contemporary pieces like Russell Hulsey’s sound installation “Kentucky Monolith 2012,” disrupting expectations that divide contemporary art from folk art traditions.
Writer’s Block Festival
The writers’ festival of readings, panel discussions, workshops and presentations returned to Nulu in October for the second year. It’s free, ecumenical (food bloggers and young adult novelists rubbing shoulders with poets and online magazine editors) and participatory. I have high hopes for this event going forward.
“A Bright New Boise,” The Bard’s Town Theatre
Directed by Doug Schutte, Samuel D. Hunter’s Obie Award-winning drama about a disgraced evangelical who takes a job at an Idaho Hobby Lobby was one of the year’s most moving productions, including a riveting performance by Schutte himself.
60th Anniversary Celebration, Louisville Ballet
The ballet celebrated its 60th anniversary in April with a program that showcased its wide, flexible repertoire, from Val Caniparoli’s delightful “Lambarena” to a world premiere of Adam Hougland’s “Unyielding Radiance.” In a special treat, New York City Ballet special guests Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall danced Christopher Wheeldon’s powerful pas de deux “After the Rain.”
“5 Things,” Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble
The Slant Culture Theatre Festival stand-out contemplated, with great wit and heart, which five books, films and albums three marooned clerks would take to the proverbial deserted island.
Thankfully, Everyone’s a Critic
Of course, the idea of one person compiling a list of the best arts events of the year is pretty silly–I can’t see everything–so I put out the call for performances, exhibits and events that made a big impression in 2012 and Louisville arts patrons responded. Many of their favorites were going to be on my list, too, but in those cases, I’ve let them tell you why:
The Expanded Music Project, Land of Tomorrow
Art as music as art. The Expanded Music Project exhibited the seamless intersection of both sonic and visual landscapes. A reimagined admiration of a ’70s style roller discotheque, complete with roller skaters, disco lights, fog machines and a DJ; a bedroom built to scale reflecting a hip hop inspired youth living in the ’90s; an Ian MacKaye curated installation highlighting several physical places (represented by scaled models) that inspired both his music and activism over the years; and an artistic video projection on a room abundant of vertically hanging nylon rope as ambient audio accompanied the light show, to name a few of the contributions. The Expanded Music Project is open to the public through January 8, 2013. —Sean Bailey, Louisville MusiCulture
“Gruesome Playground Injuries,” Theatre 
This performance was, hands-down, my favorite in 2012. It was brilliantly staged, acted and directed. It did exactly what theatre is meant to do. It unlocked a part of my brain and made me think a little differently. Not to mention, Mike Brooks was phenom! –Matt Porter, Broadway in Louisville
“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” Actors Theatre of Louisville
Just say the words “Chad Deity” and my heart gives a little fist pump. Who would have thought that the best theatre experience I had in 2012 would be courtesy of a play about wrestling? It was a gorgeous, character-driven spectacle. So joyful and also heartbreaking. I saw it three times. –Melissa Chipman, Insider Louisville
Instant Installation Invitational, Kentucky School of Art
I’m not always low-hanging fruit when it comes to visual art events, but this was one of my favorite evenings of 2012. Essentially, ten local artists each chose a material, showed up at Kentucky School of Art, acquired the surprise materials from the nine other artists, and had an hour to create ten different installations with the ten materials in front of them. In addition to the excitement of watching ten great local artists improvise with really interesting materials (everything from crab apples to sand to organ pipes) in the uniqueness of their individual space (some choose to work on open walls, others on the floor, and one in a coat closet), it was a wonderful opportunity to explore the open studios of KSA’s first-year students, bob your head to beats provided by DJ Matt Anthony, and nosh on free food and drink (someone somewhere is good at asking for donations). There wasn’t even an entry fee. A great crowd of usual and unusual suspects showed up, and there wasn’t a hint of pretention in the air. Gotta love that. –Nick Couvalt, Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
Art Envoy, Louisville Visual Art Association
I loved how this exhibit connected LVAA’s history to its present with talented local artists from 30 years ago and today. What a beautiful sampling of the amazing visual art has come from our community for decades. I’ve been to a lot of opening receptions and this was one of the most diverse crowd – which seems to speak to its effectiveness in bridging the generation gap for audiences as well as artists. –Gil Reyes, Theatre 
“The Importance of Being Earnest,” Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company
I gotta say “The Importance of Being Earnest,” produced by Savage Rose, was my favorite theatre production featuring local actors. I’ve always been a huge fan of Wilde’s play for its wit and whimsy, but the all star cast featuring Mike Slaton, Julane Havens, Neill Robertson, Natalie Fields and Barrett Cooper KILLED it, to boot. I get off on talent and skill. I was pretty damn happy that night. –Leah Roberts, actress
WFPK Waterfront Wednesday on June 27th
Featuring Trampled By Turtles, The Walkmen and These United States. On a amazing summer evening, this assembly of bands had my friends from Germany and the Ukraine dancing up a storm. And for me, it was a great night because I wasn’t confronted by Catfish Louie. –Brian Leung, author of “Take Me Home”
“Macbeth,” Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company
It was at once terrifying, engaging and thoroughly entertaining! I think all theatre in Louisville should aspire to be as intriguing on so many levels. –Michael Drury, Pandora Productions
Cabin, multiple shows
My favorite arts events this year came in back-to-back months, when Cabin played at Uncle Slayton’s (June) and Forecastle (July). Their site says “Just a band from Louisville”… understate much? I can’t remember the last band from Louisville who had me listening to their work the same way I listen to the non-locals who dominate my mp3 world. –Doug Schutte, The Bard’s Town
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” Actors Theatre of Louisville
It was the first time I’ve seen O’Neill on stage and I was mesmerized the entire 3+ hours. The script is a masterpiece and the production was beautifully executed from the design, sound, direction. But the main reason I’m going with this show is the performances; they reached into my soul and left me a sobbing mess for much of my ride home from the theatre. They held their mirror so close to my nose that I couldn’t escape the implications as they related to my own life and to me that’s great art! –Brian Walker, Finnigan Productions
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” Actors Theatre of Louisville
I had read the script recently, and while reading was focused mostly on how laughably impossible O’Neill’s stage directions seem; I liked reading it, but didn’t expect to enjoy seeing it in production at all. While watching, I was completely engaged and often moved. The next day, I wrote an email encouraging a friend to see it that summed up what I was surprised to discover: “There’s a lot of beauty in that script. So much pain and so many horrible things said between people in that family, but the production treats them all (and in moments the characters treat each other) with a great deal of tenderness and empathy.” –Amy Steiger, University of Louisville Department of Theatre Arts
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night,” Actors Theatre of Louisville
Favorite arts event of 2012–this is tough, but I call long days journey at ATL. Also, I love The Big Break! It’s great. –Lucas Adams, Stage One Family Theatre
“Evening With Edgar Allen Poe,” Frazier Historical Museum
This show is always a pleasure, but the new smaller space and the new angle on the evening’s musical component were both splendid additions to what is becoming my annual holiday outing. –Gregory Maupin, Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble
“Unsilent Night,” ART+FM
I’d like to nominate Louisville’s inaugural performance of Phil Kline’s Unsilent Night.Organized by Heather Fox and Sharon Scott, general manager of ART+FM radio, this event brought together folks interested in music, radio, the urban landscape, exploration and community. Not only was the composition beautiful, but the experience connected the participants with the sights and sounds of our beloved city. –Sarah-Jane Poindexter, The Filson Historical Society
Slant Culture Theatre Festival
It is past time for Louisville to have a fringe festival or similar event, and the inaugural festival was well-thought out, well-organized and professionally executed. I think it will quickly become a signature event for Louisville. –Mike Slaton, Metro Parks