On January 2, Aldy Milliken, executive director of the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, posted a declaration on Facebook:
In the moment, I didn’t think much of the statement; I may have given it a quick “like” and kept scrolling. But within a few hours, Milliken’s status and the corresponding hashtag #theyearoftheartist2017 had been shared by hundreds of artists across the state.
The phrase “Year of the Artist” is pretty simple. So why did it catch on in a way that other New Year’s resolutions or wishes did not?
Milliken says it’s because, first and foremost, artist is an inclusive term — an important designation in what seems like an increasingly politically divided climate.
“Art itself should be an additive conversation,” Milliken says. “Not something that is reductive, that’s exclusive.”
Milliken says the phrase was initially inspired, in part, as a response to Gov. Matt Bevin’s December announcement that 2017 was the “year of the Bible.”
“And if he can declare this the year of ‘whatever,’ you know we can do the same thing,” Milliken says. “And because of social media, we can democratize ideas. And good ideas tend to travel.”
But Milliken also says “Year of the Artist” is a statement that has meaning on both a national and local level. On the national side, he says art is a way individuals can make sense of or statements about a variety of political and social issues, including the upcoming administration.
“I’ve always said art is the highest and deepest form of communication,” he says. “That it is a way for us to have sort of more complex conversations without being confrontational.”
On a local level, Milliken says now that arts institutions like KMAC and the Speed have renovated and reopened, they are operating in a way where they can engage more with local artists.
Additionally, he hopes there can be a variety of “Year of the Artist” events.
“This year, I hope we can really dig into our own local arts scene and support artists and provide a resource for them and this platform that gets their work and their ideas out into a greater context,” he says.