Local artists and businesses work with city to make Louisville a destination

By Mathew Klickstein For the Camera

POSTED:   01/07/2011 10:11:36 AM MST

Andy Williams, Darren LeBlanc and Reese LeBlanc perform at the Bittersweet gallery. ( Jonathan Castner )

Andy Williams, Darren LeBlanc and Reese LeBlanc perform at the Bittersweet gallery. ( Jonathan Castner )

If you go

What: Louisville Art Walk 

When: 6-9 p.m. tonight 

Where: Downtown Louisville

Louisville held its first art walk on Friday, December 10, in a bid to establish the town as a growing cultural scene. 

Sculptor and architect Renzo Verbeck has been working at his craft for over 20 years and has lived in Louisville for a decade. He's been surprised to discover so many artists in his neighborhood. "Seems like there are a few artists on every block now," he said. 

Referring to what some in the town are hailing as Louisville's "art renaissance," Verbeck called the development a "bootstrap operation." 

"It's participatory and all the artists are cooperating by showing work but also by setting up lights at galleries or helping out in other ways. It's a co-op in a sense." 

Disillusioned with finding galleries to show his work elsewhere, artist Anthony Grant opened a gallery of his own in Louisville last November. 

Grant says that events like the art walk show how locals are working together to make Louisville a viable destination for both travelers and new businesses alike. "The economy is on the grow here," he said, "and we're all looking forward to Conoco Phillips' new campus coming to the area, which promises to bring 6,000 employees to Louisville." 

Such a move, Grant feels, will help ensure that Louisville's business and real estate sectors continue to boom, but will also bring in more art patrons and families looking for a real scene in which to live and play locally. 

"There's potential for more development in every area," said Art Underground Executive Director Lori Jones who opened up her space to the art walk as the first of many upcoming "collaborative efforts." 

Mary Friedman looks over some of the work on display at the Art Walk showing at Creative Framing. ( Jonathan Castner )

Mary Friedman looks over some of the work on display at the Art Walk showing at Creative Framing. ( Jonathan Castner )

"Everybody's on the same page to bring awareness that we have a good core here. To enrich daily lives whether getting coffee or going to a show. There really are many offerings. When you have that mixed with a small town feel, you really get what we like to call an 'art village' in Louisville." 

"The city has been very helpful," said artist and Bittersweet Gallery co-owner Jennifer Wegen. Though her gallery has been open a mere three months, Wegen and fellow co-owner/artist Robin Hiers have found themselves at the center of this budding local movement. 

"The support we're getting is overwhelmingly positive," Wegen said. "Everybody wants to pitch in and help to make it work." 

In front, Mary Johnson tries on some of the jewelry of Jeannette Bowles, at rear, during the Art Walk at Bittersweet gallery. ( Jonathan Castner )

In front, Mary Johnson tries on some of the jewelry of Jeannette Bowles, at rear, during the Art Walk at Bittersweet gallery. ( Jonathan Castner )

Hiers agrees with her business partner that working together is key, not just for Wegen and her, but throughout the city by means of cross promotion and sometimes even sending customers to other galleries or businesses. "There's a little bit of competition, but it's friendly competition. 

"If [Bittersweet] was the only gallery in Louisville," Hiers said, "there wouldn't be a scene and no one would come. When you give the community multiple options, people can stay and have a full, great experience" 

"It's definitely important for us all to work together to make downtown Louisville a viable space," said Patrick Walsh, whose family owns a great deal of the property where Bittersweet Gallery and other Main Street businesses reside. He also recently opened the Bittersweet Café, which shows artwork as well as hosts live music, as they had during the art walk. 

Walsh is currently working toward Bittersweet Café's expanding and gaining a liquor license as well to connect the gallery with the café which he hopes will further draw crowds into Louisville's nightlife scene. 

"We have a cultural council that has worked tirelessly with artists in town," said Louisville Mayor Chuck Sisk. "We're going to retain Louisville's history but also we're not going to be afraid to change." 

Jim Cohen, owner of restaurant the Empire on Main Street, considers himself a culinary artist and does all he can to help his fellow craftsman by either showing work at the Empire or by sending out information about events like the art walk through his restaurant's own promotional materials. 

He believes that change and growth is important in Louisville. "It benefits everyone," he said. "We've had five new restaurants open this last summer, and I think the art community had a lot to do with that. Louisville is a much more happening place than it was four years ago." 

"The art walk is a big step in letting people know that Louisville is a place that appreciates art," said Sisk. "Louisville's really become a destination."

 

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