Several West End arts and community leaders held a celebration of collaboration and creativity at Central High School Monday evening.
It was the first event of a series called “Arts in Neighborhoods.”
The lineup included AMPED, Keen Dance Theatre, LaNita Rocknettes School of Dance, River City Drum Corps, live painting by Shawn Wade and Artistry of a Dreamer, D.E.S.T.I.N.E.D. Dance Company, Redline Performing Arts, West Louisville Women’s Collaborative and spoken word artist Rheonna Thornton.
They were joined onstage by guest artist Grammy-Award-winning jazz bassist Christian McBride.
For dancer Alex Betts, the experience of collaborating with all of the artists was invaluable.
He said, all too often, artists and arts groups work in silos. But there are so many “hidden gems” in the city, and he believes they’re stronger in numbers.
“I think, in Louisville, it’s greatly needed for us to make those connections all over the city … and I think these types of events are what really brings us together as a community, as a city,” said Betts, who is also associate artistic director of Keen Dance Theatre.
The “Arts in Neighborhoods” initiative is an evolution of Fund for the Arts’ annual showcase, which had been held downtown early in the calendar year as a way to commemorate artists from the region and launch the Fund’s capital campaign.
Fund leadership said this felt like the natural next step, to decentralize the event and have local artists be the ones to determine what these kinds of cultural gatherings look and sound like. It’s meant to boost the work artists had already been doing in their respective communities for years.
Kate Gipson, director of strategic initiatives at Fund for the Arts, told WFPL earlier this month the nonprofit will provide some financial backing for each event, ranging from $5,000 – $10,000 to support production needs and keep admission free.
Plans are already in the works for future “Arts in Neighborhoods” events, according to a Fund spokesperson. Those dates include April 10 in the South End and May 20 and 21 in Shively. Artist rosters and additional details are pending.
Here’s a bit more about some of the artists who performed at Central High School Monday.
Keen Dance Theatre:
Keen Dance Theatre artistic director John Keen said diversity is key to the company’s roster of artists.
“When I moved to New York, I was going to a lot of auditions, and I am not a skinny guy. I’ve always been a built guy. I don’t have a ballet type body,” Keen said. “So I wanted to create a space for dancers that were all shapes and sizes, all ethnic backgrounds, so we can all feel comfortable in this space.”
He launched the company in New York City in 2008, eventually moving it to his hometown of Louisville in 2014.
Keen said, when he choreographs, it’s not only about putting together phrases of movement: it’s about storytelling.
“There’s always a story behind the dance,” he said.
But Keen doesn’t dictate how his dancers should interpret that story. He wants them to make it their own.
“We all have so many different experiences, we all come from different backgrounds, we do different things during the day … it creates magic, when we’re on stage together,” dancer and associate artistic director Alex Betts said.
At Monday’s Arts in Neighborhoods event, the company performed the final movement of Keen’s work “Sanctified.” He said the piece celebrates liberation from slavery.
“And when you see the dancers, you can tell that it is a celebration because the song is ‘I’m Gonna Sing ‘til the Spirit Moves In My Heart.’ And that’s exactly what the company’s doing,” Keen said.
West Louisville Women’s Collaborative:
Ramona Dallum Lindsey described the West Louisville Women’s Collaborative as, “a group of women who care about the West End.”
“We believe in reclaiming forgotten spots, and turning them into places where people can heal and build community together,” said Lindsey, who is a board member.
The collaborative began in 2014 after Lindsey had worked on a public art piece “where we reclaimed a vacant building” in the Parkland neighborhood. Lindsey helped turn the abandoned two-story apartment building into an artwork with a rising Phoenix.
While working on the Parkland project, Lindsey said she was approached by other women artists interested in the work.
Since its founding, the collaborative has transformed two vacant houses and one lot into art projects, including a “meditative walking path” known as the “Peace Labyrinth.”
The group hosts an open studio at their facility in Chickasaw on the last Saturday of each month for the public to come together and make art.
Lindsey said about a dozen artists are presently a part of the West Louisville Women’s Collaborative, and the group’s bylaws require that at least half of the board live and work in one of the West End neighborhoods.
The collaborative has recently acquired an additional property, according to Lindsey.
“We are looking at how we can turn it into a space for healing practitioners and also a residence for an artist,” she said.
D.E.S.T.I.N.E.D. Dance Company:
D.E.S.T.I.N.E.D. Dance Company is rooted in West African and lyrical dance, according to artistic director and owner Lonnetta Martin Grimes.
“I also like to call it inspirational because I usually choose songs that have a message and have a meaning behind them,” she said.
Grimes said everything in her life has been influenced by dance. As she got older, it became important to share her love for dance and performing with younger generations.
“So I love being on stage, and the confidence that it gives me and gave me throughout my life, I wanted to be part of passing that down,” she said of the company’s founding.
D.E.S.T.I.N.E.D. Dance Company is now in its seventh year, and the name is an acronym for “determined, exuberant, strong, trained, infallible, naturally energetic dancers.”
Most of what Grimes choreographs for her company has meaning behind it.
“It might be something that I’m going through in my life at that particular moment … or what’s happening in the world,” she said. “So I try to choose things that motivate you, that inspire you to want to do something different and positive.”
AMPED’s music academy teaches young people how to play instruments, as well as the business and technical skills needed in the industry. They also have classes for composition and songwriting.
Recording artist and AMPED graduating student Quentin “Q Mehki” Brady, who described his music as “versatile and just good music to the ears,” said his mother enrolled him in the music school when he was 15. He got serious about his music a year later and said AMPED played a big role in that.
“They gave me the opportunity to do performances for them, and I’ve had plenty of opportunities [through] them,” he said.
He said the AMPED classes are “fun, interactive,” and leave room for lots of creativity.
Music producer and AMPED instructor Yons said they do lean toward a more interactive approach versus what might be considered traditional music teaching methods.
“So a lot of hands on,” he said. “Kids get to create based on their terms and kind of try to peer into their imagination to see what they would like to create.”
He added that a more holistic approach to teaching music, including educating kids on things like production and marketing, reflects “the nature of the music industry today.”
“Giving kids technology, information and education, I think that’s a big part of music nowadays,” Yons said.