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Kentucky Performing Arts – A Timeline

1980 - The Kentucky General Assembly helps establish a major public/private partnership to create The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. The Kentucky Center is created to promote state culture and tourism, provide a home for Louisville’s prominent performing arts groups and enable citizens to see international and nationally renowned artists. Caudill, Rowlett & Scott, an architectural firm from Houston, is contracted to design the building with assistance from the Design and Construction Department of Humana Inc.

1983 - On November 19, The Kentucky Center is officially dedicated at a gala event in Whitney Hall. Attendees include Charlton Heston, Diane Sawyer, Lily Tomlin, Jessye Norman and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.  The Kentucky Center opened under the leadership of President & Executive Director Marlow Burt and Board Chair Wendell Cherry.

1984 - The Kentucky Center takes the national spotlight when it hosts one of the 1984 Presidential Debates between President Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale.

1986 - The Bank One Lonesome Pine Specials Series begins taping its concerts for airing on KET throughout the Commonwealth. Then, in 1988 Lonesome Pine goes international, with 130 PBS stations across America and Channel 4 in England broadcasting concerts videotaped on the Bomhard stage.

1986 - The Kentucky Center Governor’s School for the Arts is established and in 1987 celebrates its first class with 120 students attending in six disciplines: Creative Writing, Dance, Drama, Instrumental Music, Visual Art, and Vocal Music.

1987 - The Boyd Martin Experimental Theater is dedicated. The MeX, as it comes to be called, is a simple "black box" stage, providing a blank slate for original plays, innovative productions of the classics, music, dance and literary readings. It soon becomes a favorite venue for local theater and arts groups.

1989 - Alexander Calder’s sculpture "The Red Feather" finds a home on the front steps of The Kentucky Center. The piece joins artworks by such 20th century masters as Joàn Miro, Jean Dubuffet, Louise Nevelson and John Chamberlain.

1990 - The Kentucky Center initiates the ArtsReach Louisville program, bringing arts involvement and instruction to community centers throughout the city. ArtsReach joins several successful educational programs at the Center, such as the Arts Education Showcase, the Kentucky Institutes for Arts in Education, and the Arts Academies. All of these programs fulfill The Kentucky Center’s mission to bring the arts to every corner of Kentucky.

1991 - The Kentucky Center Access Services Department establishes the first Audio Description program in the Commonwealth. Later, Kentucky’s first Captioned Theater program will be added as well.

1993 - To celebrate 10 years of excellence, The Kentucky Center hosts a state-wide open house bringing in various arts organizations, performers, and audiences from across the Commonwealth for a day-long celebration.

1993 - The international Lonesome Pine Specials Series’ broadcasts are made a part of the Smithsonian Institution.

1997 - The Center becomes the manager of the newly-renovated W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre on Broadway. The Brown, which is listed on the National Register for Historic Places, currently seats 1,400 patrons in the style and splendor reminiscent of Louisville’s grand past and indicative of our vibrant future.

2000 - Thanks to the support of the Kentucky legislature, The Kentucky Center initiates a $4.5 million renovation, a major project that includes adding 5,900 square feet to the lobby on both the north and south sides of the building, and a reconfiguration of the main entrance off Main Street.

2001 - The Kentucky Center’s Creative Connections Program becomes one of only 21 arts education programs to be included in the Harvard study Arts Survive: A Study of Sustainability in Arts Education Partnerships. Nearly 200 different groups had originally been nominated.

2004 - The Center is the recipient of a VSA Arts/MetLife Foundation Award of Excellence in Arts Access.

2004 - Two of The Kentucky Center’s education programs – Arts Academies and the Kentucky Institute for Arts in Education – are among five programs selected for an international study concerning professional development for teachers in the Arts by Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

2005 - The Center is the recipient of the MetLife/Arts Presenters Award for Excellence in Arts Access.

2005 - President George W. Bush hosts a Town Hall Forum in Whitney Hall on Social Security Reform.

2007 - The Kentucky Center is the recipient of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 2007 Excellence in Accessibility Leadership Award.

2007 - Former Soviet Union leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev comes to speak as a part of The Global Issues Forum at The Kentucky Center.

2008 - The Brown Theatre undergoes extensive renovations to enlarge the orchestra pit to accommodate up to sixty-six musicians. These renovations come as the Kentucky Opera prepares to move into The Brown as their permanent home.

2008 - The Kentucky Center celebrates its 25th Anniversary Season with a year-long celebration that includes an open house of events and performances, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in two hugely successful performances, and the record-breaking run of the musical Wicked.

2009 - Thanks to the Kentucky Legislature, The Kentucky Center embarks on an extensive, $8.9 million renovation project. Among the renovations to be addressed first, a new state-of-the-art floor is installed on the Whitney Hall stage, making it safer and more responsive for dancers while still sturdy and reliable for Broadway productions, and new lighting and dimming systems are installed in Whitney Hall, Bomhard Theater and the Mex. A new stage rigging system will be installed in Whitney Hall in the summer of 2011.

2010 - Billboard Magazine ranks The Kentucky Center as the 9th top-grossing venue in the world with 5,000 seats or fewer.

2013 - The Kentucky Center 30th Anniversary Season

2013 - His Holiness The Dalai Lama shares his message of peace and compassion with a group of middle, high school and college students in Whitney Hall.

2014 - Pollstar ranks two of the Kentucky Center's venues in the Top 100 Theatre Venues for total ticket sales. Whitney Hall ranked number 26 and the Brown Theatre ranked number 100.

2014 - Kentucky native and member of the first Kentucky Center Governor's School for the Arts class, Kim Baker named President of the Kentucky Center.

2018-The Kentucky Center Foundation purchases the Brown Theatre.

2019-The Kentucky Center opens a new 2,000 person standing room venue, Old Forester's Paristown Hall.

2019-The organization changes its name to Kentucky Performing Arts.

2023-Kentucky Performing Arts celebrates its 40th Anniversary.

2024-Kim Baker celebrates her 10th Anniversary as President and CEO.

To learn more about Kentucky Performing Arts, call (502) 562-0100.

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