Kentucky Opera has a new home.
The 69-year-old arts organization unveiled, what it’s deeming as, its new “community hub” at 708 Magazine St. in downtown Louisville Tuesday. Within the 16,000-square-foot facility, the opera will rehearse, host its educational programs, hold events, house its costume shop, and run its business operations and ticket office.
Barbara Lynne Jamison, general director and CEO of Kentucky Opera, said they looked at more than a dozen spots before deciding on this property.
“We looked at churches, we looked at old storefronts, we looked at all kinds of locations… but this one was just the perfect space,” Jamison told WFPL. “We wanted to be centrally located, and wanted to be careful that wherever we were we felt like we had a welcome mat out for the entire community.”
Kentucky Opera intends to invite members of the community into the new space, not just for the education programming, but to also watch rehearsals and learn about all of the people who, behind the scenes, build an opera.
“We’ve really only visited one on-ramp to opera, which was a ticket to sit in the theater,” Jamison said. “With an art form as complex as opera… I do think that we have an obligation to allow people a different road in. And this building will allow us to show different aspects of the opera coming together that might fascinate people in a way that just coming to the opera alone may not give them that perspective.”
The location will also be home to Plumb-Boyer library, a collection of scores and Kentucky Opera archives.
In June, Kentucky Opera hosted a virtual workshop presentation of a new one-act opera called “This Little Light of Mine,” about civil and voting rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, in the new space.
There’s still work to do in the new space, Jamison said, but the opera had a HVAC system installed to meet COVID-19 safety guidance on ventilation and air purification.
She didn’t disclose the details of the opera’s lease other than that it’s “long-term,” and good for more than a decade.
Kentucky Opera had been on the hunt for a new home since March 2020.
The opera had been working out of the downtown ArtSpace building. Fund for the Arts owned and operated ArtSpace, and rented out units to cultural groups at reduced rents for more than a decade. The Fund had put the building on the market two years prior, and in fall 2020, it had a buyer and a deal that seemed likely to go through.
Fund for the Arts told WFPL last fall that it was time for the philanthropic nonprofit to get out of the real estate business and reinvest that money in other programs.
Private development firm 29th Street Capital purchased the ArtSpace building, closing last May, and will renovate it into apartments. The sale forced a handful of arts organizations to find new spaces. A number of those cultural tenants, including Kentucky Shakespeare, West Louisville Performing Arts Academy and Redline Performing Arts, signed agreements on new homes in the spring.
Being put in a position where they had to relocate, Jamison said the company decided to “embrace this new time, this new chapter,” and use it as an opportunity to be more “community focused.”
Earlier this year, Kentucky Opera announced its 2021-2022 Brown-Forman season, which is a return to live, in-person performances starting in December after more than a year of virtual offerings.
With the delta variant surging in Kentucky, Jamison said they’re continuing to monitor the situation and what local, state and federal health officials are advising.
“I think, as we have the entire pandemic, we are always looking at a plan B, C and D, always want to make sure that we know what we can do,” she said, optimistic that the late in the year start of the season will make it possible for things to move forward as planned.