Arts and Culture

Several Louisville cultural groups have found new homes after having to leave their shared locale at a downtown building known as ArtSpace.

Kentucky Shakespeare has landed in Old Louisville, less than a block from where it holds its summer season in Central Park. The company has been renovating an empty industrial building with plans to move in early May. 

West Louisville Performing Arts Academy, a youth choir, will move into a space at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage in mid-May. 

Director McDaniel Bluitt said “it feels real good” to know that his youth choir will have a place, albeit a temporary one, where he can continue classes and rehearsals after a months-long search. 

“They have large numbers of people who come through that building every week, and it will help us to kind of get our materials out and our name out to people who want to know where we are going to be,” Bluitt said. 

Courtesy WLPAA

The West Louisville Performing Arts Academy during a performance.

The philanthropic nonprofit Fund for the Arts has owned ArtSpace, near the Brown Hotel and Theater on West Broadway, since December 2006, which it received the building as a donation. It rented out the units to cultural groups at subsidized rates. In recent years, other non-arts nonprofits have been in some of the spaces.

But the Fund for the Arts Properties Foundation, Inc. board decided to get out of the real estate business several years ago, chief financial officer and chief operations officer Janie Martin told WFPL last November. 

“It’s a management of time issue,” she said. 

They first put the building on the market in February 2018 and found a buyer last fall. The unnamed buyer plans to turn it into residential units.

CEO and president Christen Boone said the money from the sale would be reinvested into the Fund’s other programs. But the sale also meant that about a dozen tenants, including a handful of arts groups, had to find new homes in the middle of a global pandemic.

In December, those groups got a slight reprieve when the closing date got pushed to April

A statement from the Fund this week said the sale “should be final soon,” and that the FFTA Properties Board “has indicated a commitment to supporting the arts organizations with financial support associated with the relocation.”

“We’ve been stressing about the loss of our space for almost two years now,” Matt Wallace, producing artistic director for Kentucky Shakespeare, said.

Wallace said they looked at more than 20 places and this 8,750 square-foot spot at 616 Myrtle St., built in 1975 to manufacture auto parts, was the clear winner. 

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Kentucky Shakespeare is renovating this vacant building, which is “steps away” from its summer home in Central Park. This is it mid-renovation on March 31, 2021.

“In the history of the company, we’ve never had this sort of space, this sort of access to Central Park and have everything right here,” Wallace said, adding that they’ll have their costume shop, offices and rehearsal space in this building, with storage in an adjacent one.  

“And I still didn’t think it was possible until we had some angel donors step forward.”

The company began “quietly fundraising” in January, raising $250,000 to renovate the building’s offices and cover relocation costs. They hope to raise an additional $50,000 by the summer, Wallace said, to fund costume shop renovations and put a HVAC system into the back area, where rehearsals will take place. 

They’re aiming to complete that part of the building by summer 2022. 

Wallce didn’t share the financial details of Kentucky Shakespeare’s agreement with the building’s owner, Henry Sanders. But he said it was a “very reasonable” 10-year lease with three five-year extensions. 

“It’s just gratitude is what we’re all experiencing, to be able to come out of the past year and truly feel like we are set up for success to get to work… it’s really exciting to have something so positive coming out of this time.” Wallace said. 

He’ll miss sharing space with other Louisville arts groups.

“But those relationships have been forged,” he continued. “We’re all collaborating and my hope with this is we can capture some of that same experience of ArtSpace [here].”

Stephanie Wolf | wfpl.org

Kentucky Shakespeare producing artistic director Matt Wallace stands in the doorframe of the company’s soon-to-be costume shop.

He’d like to open their rehearsal space up to other local cultural organizations, as well as community events. 

ArtSpace tenants Creatives of Color Collective, or C3, and Redline Performing Arts signed a lease on their new home in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood in February.  

“It’s gonna still need some attention and some paint and [dance] flooring laid down, that kind of thing, but it’s definitely a start,” Alonzo Ramont, CEO of both organizations, told WFPL.

West Louisville Performing Arts Academy’s McDaniel Bluitt said the whole thing “has been a pretty challenging ordeal,” especially after having been based out of ArtSpace for about a decade.

His organization launched a capital campaign earlier this year, with the goal of raising $500,000 to ensure its future. 

He thinks the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage’s location, at 18th and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, is a great spot as it will be accessible for his young pupils through a variety of transit options, something that was important to him when shopping around.

The rooms the academy will occupy have gotten, or will get, acoustic treatments.

“They are making adjustments for us to be able to do what we do,” he said.

Because WLPAA and the center have “compatible” goals, Kentucky Center for African American Heritage executive director Aukram Burton said the two organizations are working together to make this a permanent home for Bluitt and his choir.

Courtesy KCAAH

An aerial view of the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.