Bourbon County tour house both glorious, notorious

September 27, 2011

PARIS — Every house has a story, but few have one as glorious and notorious as The Grange — from its opulent architecture to the dungeon in the cellar.

Owners Phil and Lillie Crowley were living in Lexington in 2003 when a Realtor told them The Grange was for sale. At first, it was beyond their means. But they couldn’t stop thinking about it.

“I walked in here and dropped my jaw; then the next day Phil came to see it and dropped his jaw,” said Lillie Crowley, a former math professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

“I thought it was spectacularly beautiful,” said Phil Crowley, a biologist and ecologist at the University of Kentucky. “And the history was fascinating — it wasn’t all good, but it was fascinating.”

The Crowleys will open The Grange for a public tour Sunday to benefit the preservation group Historic Paris-Bourbon County.

Edward Stone began building the home that he called Oakland in 1800 on land his father received for Revolutionary War service. Construction took nearly 20 years, and Stone spared no expense. One of his professions was builder, and he apparently wanted to advertise his workmanship.

The Grange is considered one of Kentucky’s finest Federal-style homes. The five-bay front façade is flanked by pavilions with elaborate Palladian windows set in gently curved brick. The main floor has 14-foot ceilings and is trimmed with lavish woodwork and mantles. A leaded-glass fanlight and sidelights around the front door illuminate the main hall’s grand staircase.

But Stone was better known for his other profession: slave trader. Even many slave owners of that era looked down on slave traders because of their cruel methods. Few were more infamous than Stone, who might have been the inspiration for Mr. Haley, the unscrupulous slave trader in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s influential 1852 novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Stone marched long lines of chained men and women nearly 40 miles to Maysville, where he literally “sold them down the river” to Deep South cotton plantations. He also kept slaves chained to the walls of a dungeon beneath The Grange’s elegant front hall.

Manacles were removed from the walls and bars from a small window just a few years ago, Crowley said as he took me down to see the dungeon. All that remains of the room’s evil past are iron hinge posts for what must have been a heavy door.

Stone’s business eventually caught up with him. On a trip down the Ohio River in 1826, some of the 77 slaves he was taking to New Orleans overpowered and killed him near Owensboro.

Oakland was sold in 1832 to Hugh Brent, who renamed it Brentwood and left doodles on the walls of an upstairs bedroom for the Crowleys to find more than 170 years later, when they removed several layers of wallpaper.

The mansion, renamed The Grange about 1900, would have 11 more owners before the Crowleys bought it and the surrounding 33 acres.

“We’ve really tried to maintain the historic integrity of the architecture and still make the place livable,” Phil Crowley said of the 4,600-square-foot house, which didn’t get indoor plumbing until 1906. “Heating and cooling have been an issue, but our new geothermal system has made a big difference.”

Restoring and furnishing The Grange has become an expensive hobby.

“I needed a new car, and I got this instead,” Lillie Crowley said, pointing to a huge, circa 1800 English mahogany breakfront cabinet they bought for the dining room. A massive antique bed in the guest room came with the house — probably because it was too big to move.

The most challenging project has been remodeling the kitchen. It is in the home’s oldest wing, and contractor Jim Hodsdon found a shriveled shoe while gutting a former sleeping loft there. The shoe probably belonged to Stone.

The Crowleys have collected a pile of artifacts during renovation, from pieces of pottery to the bars from the dungeon window. Thankfully, though, they haven’t encountered any ghosts of people who were once chained below their front hall.

“Talk about a place with a rotten soul,” Phil Crowley said. “It’s hard to wrap your head around.”

If you go

Tour of The Grange

When: 2-5 p.m. Oct. 2.

Where: 1366 Millersburg Rd. (U.S. 68)

Tickets: $15, $10 for Historic Paris-Bourbon County members. No reservations needed.

Learn more: (859) 987-7274

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Bucket List: Your insider guide to Central Kentucky

September 25, 2011

The Herald-Leader today published a special section, The Bluegrass Bucket List and Beyond, an insider’s guide to Central Kentucky. My contribution is below. Click here to read the others. Cover illustration by Chris Ware


Central Kentucky is steeped in history — a history that began long before pioneers ventured over the Appalachian mountains 250 years ago into what explorer John Filson called the “new Eden.”

Ancient native American tribes, statesmen, soldiers, horsemen, industrialists and many others have left their marks on this land. Many of those marks are still visible, if you know where to look.

Here is my list of a few places to visit to get a sense of Central Kentucky’s rich and colorful history. I have left off most of the obvious destinations. After all, you can find those at the Lexington Convention and Visitors’ Bureau Web site,

■ Woodland Indian Mounds. Thousands of years before Daniel Boone arrived, Native Americans lived, wandered and hunted buffalo all across the Bluegrass. They left behind stone tools, arrowheads and big mounds of earth. Most of those mounds have been fenced off over the years to keep out scavengers. An excellent example is the 105-foot circular mound at Adena Park off Mount Horeb Pike, which is thought to have been built between 200 and 1,000 B.C. The park is owned by the University of Kentucky and isn’t open to the public, but faculty and staff can arrange access for picnics.

■ Lower Howard’s Creek. This 240-acre property is both a nature preserve and Central Kentucky’s first industrial park. Some combination, huh? The property is in Clark County, in a deep, narrow gorge, just upstream from where the creek meets the Kentucky River. Some of the first settlers to leave Fort Boonesborough went there in the 1770s, and by 1812, it was one of the largest manufacturing districts west of the Allegheny Mountains. Today, Lower Howard’s Creek has mostly reverted to nature, with spectacular waterfalls and a beautiful forests. Some ruins of the stone mills, factories and distilleries remain. Visit:

■ Pope Villa. Central Kentucky has many historic mansions that have been beautifully restored. This circa-1810 home built for former U.S. Sen. John Pope is notable for two reasons: It is the Bluegrass region’s most architecturally significant home, and it is a wreck. Pope Villa was designed by Benjamin Latrobe, America’s greatest early architect, to showcase his ideas for how a “modern” home should be designed. The home was incredibly innovative, but much of that innovation was remodeled out of it over the next 150 years. The Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation is slowly restoring the home to its original state. Although not regularly open to the public, tours of Pope Villa, which is at 326 Grosvenor Avenue near the University of Kentucky, are scheduled periodically. Visit:

■ Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. This one is obvious, I know. But this is such a special place that any Bluegrass resident who hasn’t been there at least once should be asked to move to Ohio.

This village of stunning early 19th-century architecture, carefully restored in the 1960s, offers a window into the Shakers. This religious community remains famous for its simple lifestyle and elegant buildings and furniture. If only the Shakers had believed in having sex, they might still live there. Visit:

■ Country roads. When I was young, my parents’ idea of an interesting Sunday afternoon was to pile us kids in the station wagon and drive aimlessly on country roads throughout the Bluegrass. The beautiful scenery included antebellum homes, battlefields, old stone churches and historic horse farms. I still ride country roads several times a week in good weather, but I do it on a bicycle. One of Central Kentucky’s best-kept secrets is that it is a road biking paradise. If you don’t bike, though, touring Bluegrass country roads is still a great experience by car. Just watch out for the cyclists.

A model for a different Kentucky image, reality

September 25, 2011

While driving to Louisville last week, I listened to a radio interview with Bob Edwards, who has published his memoirs. The Kentucky-born broadcaster talked about having to lose his accent for network radio and having to endure lots of hillbilly jokes.

Kentuckians cringe at such stereotypes, but I took it in stride that morning. I was on my way to the Idea Festival.

The festival, which started in Lexington in 2000 and has been an annual event since moving to Louisville in 2006, shatters stereotypes about Kentucky as a place of nothing but under-educated, narrow-minded, backward people.

People from around the world come to the festival to hear fascinating speakers discuss new ideas about every subject imaginable. The program strives to create an intellectual mash-up of scientists, business people, artists, students, politicians, academics and technology geeks.

The format is similar to the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conferences, whose “TED talk” videos have become an Internet sensation. The goal is to help attendees stretch their minds and open themselves to the kind of creativity that will produce the breakthrough ideas of the future.

IBM’s Watson computer was there to play Jeopardy! against high school students after the leader of the team that created the supercomputer explained how it works. An astrophysicist discussed string theory. A “neuromarketer” talked about how to trigger buying impulses in the brain. A researcher explained the science behind kissing.

A geo-strategist analyzed world political trends. A spoken-word poet talked about preserving humanity in a Facebook/Twitter world. A top IBM executive and the head of an organic tea company compared notes on fostering business innovation. Other sessions covered health care, climate change and the value of historic landscapes.

Author Wes Moore told the compelling story of his life and the life of a man with the same name and a similar hard-luck upbringing who became a cop killer, instead of the Rhodes scholar that he became. The idea Moore wanted to explore: how others’ expectations of us shape the life-altering decisions we make.

Then, out of nowhere, the stage belonged to Linsey Stirling, a hip-hop violinist from Arizona whose creative musicianship reminded me of what Lexingtonian Ben Sollee does with a cello.

“We all act as if math, science and poetry are different things, but all knowledge is connected,” said Kris Kimel, the festival’s founder and president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp. “What the festival is about is how to deconstruct and reconnect that knowledge.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and his staff worked from desks in the lobby of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, where the festival was held, so they could attend as many sessions as possible.

About 300 city employees got to attend at least one session. Ted Smith, the city’s innovation director, encouraged them to use the experience to come up with ways to make local government more effective and efficient. “A lot of innovation comes from empowering people to bring ideas forward,” Smith said. “We want to encourage that.”

Eighty-five students from Louisville’s duPont Manual High School spent all week at the festival. Principal Larry Wooldridge said that happened because senior class president Michael Perry attended last year’s festival and convinced him that more students should come. Perry even set up a meeting between Wooldridge and Kimel to work out the details.

“These kids challenge me and the teachers every day. They come in with ideas, and they also say, ‘Here’s how we can do it,'” Wooldridge said. He said he hoped the festival would give him ideas for better integrating his school’s five diverse magnet programs.

Kimel said each of this year’s sessions — many of which were ticketed separately — attracted about 500 people. But he was disappointed that there were some empty seats. Next year, he wants more Kentucky business people and students to attend.

“When you get people in an environment like this, you get them to begin to understand that the world really is changing,” Kimel said. “If we don’t understand that, we’re going to be left out.”

Each time I attend the Idea Festival, I think about its potential to change outsiders’ stereotypes of Kentucky — and, more importantly, how such creative thinking could change the realities at the root of those stereotypes.

Ted Smith, left, debriefed some of the 300 Louisville city employees attending the Idea Festival last week to see what ideas for improving local government the festival's sessions and atmosphere may have sparked. He was sitting at the temporary office of Mayor Greg Fischer, which set up in the lobby of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts during the festival. Photo by Tom Eblen

Idea Festival: Unlocking secrets to ‘deep innovation’

September 23, 2011

IBM had Think Pads long before the invention of the laptop computer that now goes by that name. The original Think Pads were leather-bound pads of paper that IBM employees were given by management, beginning in 1923, to record their ideas and inspirations.

David Barnes, an IBM executive whose official title is “technology evangelist”, used the example to explain that innovation isn’t so much about a company’s technology as its attitude. He spoke at the Idea Festival on Friday about how to create and foster business innovation.

Too many companies are unwilling to trust employees enough to give them the time and flexibility to think creatively — or support innovation and new ideas when they come out of the rank-and-file.

“Too many companies are looking quarter-to-quarter; they are not looking long-term,” Barnes said. “They pretend they’re interested in innovation, but they’re not.”

Also talking about innovation was Heather Howell of Rooibee Red Tea, a Louisville-based organic tea company. The keys to her company’s success: “Get to know your customer. Be passionate.”

Howell said creating an innovative company is only possible if you trust employees and give them the freedom to innovate.

“Give them the leash to be creative,” she said. “The best thing I ever did was to not follow the rules.”

Idea Festival: Where art, technology collide

September 23, 2011

Artist Shih Chieh Huang created this sculpture using plastic bags and blown air at the Idea Festival in Louisville. Huang's work is being featured at the Land of Tomorrow's gallery in Louisville until Oct. 23. Photo by Tom Eblen

LOUISVILLE — The Idea Festival‘s third day Friday included mini-lectures by five artists supported by Creative Capital whose art uses modern culture, technology, everyday experiences and touches of humor to help us see things in different ways.

Shih Chieh Huang creates fascinating art installations by adapting modern technology to quirky, humorous and sometimes amazing new uses. It’s hard to describe his work; you just have to see it. To do that, click here. Or, better yet, see an exhibit of his work at the Land of Tomorrow gallery’s Louisville space, Sept. 23 – Oct. 23. For more information, click here.

Mark Shepard showed an “instructional video” that uses humor to comment on modern life, technology and urban architecture. His tool is the “Serendipitor” — an imaginary device for finding something by looking for something else. The device provides such useful instructions as: “Walk toward the heart of the city. If it doesn’t have a heart, give it one.”  See more of his work by clicking here.

Julie Wyman is a photographer whose art has evolved into recording “light events” without a traditional camera. That has included recording full moons to light in Antarctica. See more of her work by clicking here.

Pamela Z bends and synthesizes her voice and other sounds with images to create dazzling audio-visual experiences. She also has expanded into audio-visual art installations. See more of her work by clicking here.

Richard Pell is the creator of the Center for Post-Natural History, which has a location in Pittsburgh and does installations around the country. With big doses of humor, he explores how human culture and science has altered nature. He especially likes to focus on creatures who through selective breeding and genetic modification have become part of what he calls the “post-natural world.” Read more about his work by clicking here.

Creative Capital is a New York-based nonprofit that tries to be “a catalyst for the development of adventurous and imaginative ideas by supporting artists who pursue innovation in form and/or content in the performing and visual arts, film and video, and in emerging fields.” For more information, see its website.

Idea Festival: Geo-politics will only get more messy

September 22, 2011

LOUISVILLE — The number of nations in the world has doubled in the past 60 years, and that trend will continue as post-colonial countries in the developing world break apart along ethnic, political and economic lines.

That was the prediction of Parag Khanna, a geo-strategist and author who spoke Thursday during the second day of the Idea Festival.

The trend helps explain the so-called Arab Spring uprisings that began earlier this year, and, he said, the inevitability of a Palestinian state.

“This is a tide of history that simply can’t be stopped,” he said.

Khanna criticized United States opposition to Palestinians’ request for recognition by the United Nations, saying it will leave America on the wrong side of history.

Recent revolutions in the Middle East will likely spread to other parts of the developing world. He predicted that 80 or 90 more new countries will likely emerge in the next decade or so as post-colonial monarchies and dictatorships break up and are reshaped by technology-enabled citizens and economic interests.

“It’s going to be one of those hold-your-hat decades we’re looking at, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing,” he said.

Many current national boundaries were arbitrarily set within the past century, anyway, while ethnic and cultural associations often go back thousands of years.

In the future, Khanna said, non-governmental organizations, foundations and multinational corporations will often be better suited to solving global problems than governments and traditional diplomacy. Companies are becoming more influential than many governments, he said, noting that Wal-mart’s supply chain produces more greenhouse gasses than Ireland does.

There are few truly global problems — one, he said, is climate change, and it has been poorly dealt with through global approaches.

“You don’t fight climate change by flying to conferences and signing documents,” he said. Instead, the answer is coordinating efforts by companies and non-profits to create new technologies that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

“The way we think of running the world is being turned on its head,” Khanna said. “The best global governance is local governance.”

Khanna is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of the best-sellers How to Run the World: Charting a Course to the Next Renaissance (2011) and The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order (2008).


Idea Festival: Brain secrets to making sales

September 22, 2011

LOUISVILLE — Sales success is not so much about selling. It is about easing potential customers’ pain and fear and appealing to their “reptilian” brain.

That was the message of Patrick Renvoisé, an author and former head of global business development for Silicon Graphics who calls himself an expert in neuromarketing. He studies how the human brain makes buying decisions, and he offered tips for influencing those decisions.

Decisions are primarily governed by the “reptilian” brain — the part of our brain where instinct and basic survival skills reside — rather than the intellectual or emotional parts. The best way to sell customers is to diagnose their pains and fears and offer ways to ease them, Renvoisé said.

“When people want and need your product, what is their pain?” he asked, adding that fear-avoidance is one of the strongest human motivations.

For example, he told the Idea Festival audience on Thursday, Dominos Pizza figured out years ago that people who ordered delivery pizza were more anxious about when it would arrive than how good it would taste. Thus, the Dominos sales pitch of delivery within 30 minutes or the pizza was free.

After easing pain and calming fears, appealing to emotions is important. “We make emotional decisions and then try to rationalize them, not vice versa,” Renvoisé said.

Other advice: explain how your product is different and better than competitors’ products, and prove it somehow. Also, keep your message simple and visual.


Idea Festival: preserving humanity in a virtual world

September 22, 2011

LOUISVILLE — Spoken-word poet Azure Antoinette struggles with the problem as much as others do.

She worries that we are losing our humanity in a virtual world of digital communications, where many people pay more attention to their Facebook friends than their actual friends. Still, she said, she is addicted to her BlackBerry and is constantly on Twitter and Facebook.

“It’s this false popularity that’s very strange,” Antoinette told her audience Thursday at the Idea Festival. “We are all so self-centered.”

Technology has opened up amazing new ways to expand communication, she noted, but we must avoid short-changing the genuine interpersonal communication that enriches our lives. “We are moving away from a time when things are physically tangible,” she said, and that is not good.

As a poet, she also worries about what social media is doing to young people’s language and grammar skills. And she fears that popular culture is being confused with meaningful art and literature.

During a question-and-answer session after her lecture, an audience member had the best line I have heard this morning: “I’ve heard it said that a book commits suicide every time somebody watches Jersey Shore.”

Idea Festival speaker explains the science of kissing

September 22, 2011

LOUISVILLE — To Sheril Kirshenbaum, a kiss is not just a kiss.

The researcher and author opened the second day of the Idea Festival on Thursday with a lecture on the topic of her new book, The Science of Kissing.

Smooching, she explained, really is about chemistry. And biology. And evolutionary impulses about reproduction that are very different among men and women.

“A first kiss is nature’s ultimate litmus test,” Kirshenbaum said.

While men often see kissing as a means to an end (sex), women, who often have more acute senses of taste and smell, use it as an important indicator of whether to pursue a relationship. They literally are trying to find “the right chemistry” because “kissing acts on the body like a drug.”

Among kissing behavior she noted: Most people tilt their heads when they kiss, and two-thirds of them tilt their head to the right. Why is that? One theory is it is the way most infants nurse. Also, she claimed, people are more likely to pass germs through shaking hands than pressing lips.

“The best advice I can give is when you love someone, kiss them often,” she said.

Kirshenbaum is a scientist at the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy. Aside from studying kissing, her work focuses on increasing public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans and culture. She also writes the blog Culture of Science.


Idea Festival students play Jeopardy! against Watson

September 21, 2011

David Shepler, IBM's Watson program manager, explains to high school students how to play Jeopardy! against the computer. Photo by Tom Eblen

LOUISVILLE — High school students attending the Idea Festival’s opening day Wednesday got a lesson in the possibilities of computer science, courtesy of the field’s biggest non-human celebrity: Watson, the IBM computer that beat the human champions on Jeopardy!

Six students were selected to play against Watson after David Shepler, who managed the IBM project team that developed the computer, gave a lecture about the science behind how it works.

He also talked about how that technology could eventually be used for things a lot more important than winning a television game show.

“Watson’s going to do a lot of things to free up our time to be creative,” Shepler said. “He’s not going to be creative; he’s going to leave that to us.”

Watson is basically a huge, fast processor of stored information. It has computing power equivalent to 6,000 personal computers, and a staggering 15 terabytes of memory. (One terabyte equals 1,024 gigabytes.)

The innovation of Watson’s design is in how it processes information.

Competing on Jeopardy! provided publicity that made the computer instantly famous, Shepler said. But, more importantly, the game show was a great test of the engineers’ ability to improve the way computers interact with humans.

“Jeopardy! questions aren’t written for computers,” Shepler said. That meant Watson had to be programmed to understand human language and thought patterns, to react quickly and to make judgments about the probable accuracy of answers. That involved “teaching” the computer such things as speech conventions.

For example, Watson wanted to call King Henry VI, “Henry Vee Eye” rather than “Henry the eighth.” And it initially called Malcolm X “Malcolm the tenth.” But Watson eventually caught on.

Such computing prowess has unlimited applications, Shepler said. The IBM team is first focusing on medicine, looking toward the day when Watson-like computers could help a doctor diagnose a patient’s illness. The computer could digest the patient’s medical and family histories, be programmed with vast quantities of medical knowledge and be able to quickly sort through it to make suggestions to the doctor.

Other possible applications include technical support, law and security. At the Idea Festival, though, Watson’s main job was to play Jeopardy! against high school students.

The students were smart. They were quick. And they gave the computer good competition, especially on categories such as “Presidential Rhyme Time,” which involved both word play and accumulated knowledge. The students were quicker than Watson to figure out that the question to the answer “Barack’s Andean pack animals” was, “What are Obaman’s llamas.”

In the end, though, the computer was a decisive winner, winning twice as much imaginary money as the best of the two three-student teams.

The Idea Festival continues through Saturday at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. For more information, go to





Idea Festival opens in Louisville by ‘rethinking’ city

September 21, 2011

The Idea Hub in the lobby of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts has become an outpost for offices of city government and several local companies during the Idea Festival, which began Wednesday and continues through Saturday. Photo by Tom Eblen

LOUISVILLE — The Idea Festival opened in Louisville this morning with a panel discussion called “Rethinking Louisville.” But moderator Ted Smith, the city government’s director of innovation, was quick to point out that “rethink” is not the same as “change.”

Those two concepts are often confused. The annual Idea Festival is about opening people’s minds to new ideas that lead to innovation. Some of those ideas and innovations will lead to change — a concept many people see as threatening — but not always. Sometimes, solving problems and improving communities and economies is about preserving what you have that works.

The Idea Festival began in Lexington in 2000 and moved to Louisville in 2006, seeking the sponsors and facilities that would allow it to become an annual event at a central facility. At this year’s festival, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts is that place.

Mayor Greg Fischer has moved his office to the Idea Hub, a group of desks in the Kentucky Center’s lobby.”The mayor wants to promote entrepreneurial thinking, so he said, ‘Let’s just move the office here,'” spokesman Chris Poynter said.

Fischer was in Washington for a meeting Wednesday, so won’t actually get to the festival until Thursday. But Poynter said that about 300 city employees will be attending festival sessions, as well as daily discussions led by Smith about how those ideas can be used to make local government more effective and efficient.

Several major Louisville companies also have rented desks in the Idea Hub to serve as a base for employees attending sessions.

Here were a few ideas from this morning’s sessions:

Louisville traffic patterns have adapted pretty quickly to the sudden closure of a cracked Interstate highway bridge. Rather than creating Interstate gridlock, local commuters are finding secondary streets and bridges that can get them where they need to go. That won’t solve larger issues of interstate commerce, but it provided a lesson.

“The discussion about bridges has always been about Interstate bridges,” Smith said. “Maybe it takes a crisis to say ‘Are all the alternatives on the table?'”

Another example of not always seeing things in front of our faces came up in an earlier session. Charles Birnbaum of the Cultural Landscape Foundation talked about how, when preserving and enhancing historic and signature buildings, cities often overlook the importance of the surrounding landscape. Landscape design and functionality is important, he said. “It’s another way to see and value place.”




YMCA has students, mentors Run the Streets

September 20, 2011

Jade Finley started noticing something was wrong about a year ago.

“I was getting a little flabby,” said the sixth-grader at Bryan Station Middle School.

So Jade, 11, started running. The more she ran, the more she liked it, especially after she spent this summer participating in a free YMCA program designed to get kids ages 10 to 18 interested in running for fun and exercise.

“I’ve dropped a whole dress size,” she said. “It makes me feel good. I’m really enjoying it.”

Jade’s mother can tell a difference, too.

“This has really made her blossom,” Tanya Finley said. “She has taken a big interest in running, and she says she’s going to try out for the school track team.”

Jade was one of about 15 young people and almost as many adult mentors who have met outside historic Loudoun House three times a week since July 25 to participate in the YMCA’s Run the Streets program.

After stretching and get- acquainted exercises, participants spend an hour each Monday and Wednesday evening and two hours each Saturday morning doing relays and running games around Castlewood Park, and running through the park and the surrounding North Lexington neighborhood.

Students who attended eight of the first 12 sessions received a team T-shirt and a pair of running shoes, courtesy of the YMCA of Central Kentucky and John’s Run Walk Shop. “They all worked hard to earn those shoes,” said their leader, Elissa Roycraft, sports and program director at the Beaumont Centre Family YMCA.

The kids who stick with the program will get a free entry in the Run for Education, a 10K race Oct. 8 in Midway.

“I’ve definitely noticed a health difference in the kids since we started,” Roycraft said. “They’re able to go a lot farther than what they thought they would be able to do.”

Although one boy admitted that he was there because his mother made him, others I talked with told of experiences similar to Jade.

“I’ve improved quite a bit since I started this,” said Elizabeth Minor, 15, who said Run the Streets helped her make Henry Clay High School’s varsity cross-country team.

“He loves it,” Belinda Stewart said of her son, Baylen, 10, a fifth-grader at Sandersville Elementary School. “He’s been running 5Ks with his daddy all summer.”

One key to the program has been having students run with one another and with the adult mentors, many of whom are avid runners in their spare time, Roycraft said. “Even though running is an individual sport, we try to make it as much about teamwork as possible,” she said.

Carol Russell volunteered to be a mentor because she thinks exercise is important to lifelong health. She didn’t start running until age 47. Now 56, Russell said she recently qualified for the Boston Marathon.

“Childhood obesity is a real problem in Kentucky, as is Type 2 diabetes,” said Russell, who helps organize the Girl Scouts’ Thin Mint Sprint, a 5K race at the Kentucky Horse Park each May.

Russell thinks it is important for adults to help kids get into the habit of lifelong exercise because physical activity isn’t as much a natural part of childhood as it once was.

“When we were kids, we all played outdoors,” she said. “We didn’t have video games.”

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Blogging this week from the Idea Festival

September 20, 2011

What’s the big idea? Well, there will be many of them in Louisville this week.

I’ll be there Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, blogging from the Idea Festival, writing about what this year’s stellar lineup of speakers has to say.

If you have never been to the festival, you’re missing something. Kris Kimel, who heads the Kentucky Science & Technology Corp., started the now-annual event in Lexington in 2006. It moved to Louisville in 2006 because it needed bigger venues and corporate sponsors.

Click here to check out the festival’s website, which has a complete program, speakers bios, a blog and other information.

Watch this space throughout the day Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, or follow my Twitter tweets here. Also, my column in Sunday’s Herald-Leader will look at some of the interesting things that happened at this event that is helping make Kentucky an internationally known place for ideas and innovation.


CentrePointe architect wins $500k ‘genius’ grant

September 20, 2011

Jeanne Gang, left, discusses her CentrePointe design with Richard Levine, one of several Lexington architects working with her on the project, at a public meeting in Lexington in July. Photo by Tom Eblen

Lexingtonians aren’t the only ones impressed with architect Jeanne Gang, whom developers Dudley and Woodford Webb hired earlier this year to redesign their stalled CentrePointe project downtown.

Gang, 47, was chosen today as one of 22 winners of an unrestricted, $500,000 MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant.

The prestigious grants are given each year to talented U.S. citizens or residents who have shown “exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.”

In choosing the architect for the award, the foundation said this: “Always responsive to the specific geography, social and environmental context, and purpose of each project, Gang creates bold yet functional forms for residential, educational, and commercial buildings.”

Gang and her Chicago-based firm, Studio Gang Architects, have built projects all over the world. Her best known building is the 82-story Aqua tower, which opened in Chicago last year.

“An emerging talent with a diverse and growing body of work, Gang is setting a new industry standard through her effective synthesis of conventional materials, striking composition, and ecologically sustainable technology,” the MacArthur Foundation said.

The foundation’s Web site has more about Gang here.

For information about the MacArthur Foundation grants and other winners this year, click here.

Click here to read more about Gang’s work on Lexington’s CentrePointe project.

Here is a short video the MacArthur Foundation produced about Gang.

Author finds hit with common-sense money advice

September 19, 2011

High finance has gotten so complicated that many so-called experts no longer seem to understand it. Wall Street has become a computer-driven casino, where huge gains can become huge losses within seconds.

Personal finance can be much simpler. In fact, a whole information industry has sprung up to preach common-sense money management to average people who forgot or never learned time-tested strategies.

Richmond’s Don McNay, a financial consultant and syndicated columnist, is the author of a new book, Wealth Without Wall Street, that has been selling briskly on since it came out in paperback Aug. 25 ($9.99, Kindle $5.99). The hardback ($19.99) debuts Tuesday at a 7 p.m. signing at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

“I don’t just complain about things; I give people practical advice to do something about their situation,” McNay said. “It’s about taking control of your finances and your life.”

McNay’s timing is perfect: Unemployment is high; many people are struggling with debt; and the public is angry at Wall Street fat cats, who are back to their old shenanigans after receiving $700 billion in taxpayer bailouts three years ago.

It also doesn’t hurt that two of the nation’s most popular personal finance gurus — Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey, whose philosophies McNay generally shares — also have new books out. McNay said his book is benefitting from Amazon’s computer-generated referrals. “People who pull up their books see, ‘You also might like this,'” he said.

McNay, 52, who writes for Huffington Post and several small Kentucky newspapers, owns a company that specializes in what are called structured settlements. He helps people who get big payouts from an insurance settlement, or maybe a lottery win, manage and conserve their money.

His slim, easy-to-read book isn’t technical; it’s more like common-sense advice from a wise uncle.

McNay said he has learned how to explain things simply after years of working with accident victims, many of whom have little education and many financial problems. Plus, he and his own family have made a lot of mistakes over the years.

For example, McNay said, he became a successful broker in the 1980s and splurged on all the trappings — a Mercedes-Benz, a big house and a fancy office in downtown Lexington. Then he lost it all through a complicated real estate investment he didn’t understand. He had to dig himself out of debt.

The book tells several other painful stories that taught McNay lessons. “It’s embarrassing,” he said, “but it’s real life.”

Here is a sample of McNay’s advice:

Avoid credit cards: McNay said most of the pushback to his book has come from readers who say credit cards can be great tools when managed properly. But he avoids them because he doesn’t want to be like too many Americans and let credit cards become a debt trap. McNay, who said he has always struggled with his weight, compares credit cards to keeping fattening food out of his house; if it’s there, he will eat it.

Work for yourself: Not everyone is cut out to own their own business, but if you are, do it. It’s hard work, but it gives you more control over your life and future.

Get rich slowly: To McNay, that means don’t spend more money than you make. Avoid debt. Save through conservative investments. Consult an attorney when necessary. Have a will and life insurance to protect your assets. Not only does this make you richer, it will remove a lot of stress. “It takes power away from those who can control you,” he said.

Move your money from a big bank to a small one: Wall Street has so much power, McNay said, because so much of Americans’ money is invested in big banks. They were behind most of the risky activities that tanked the economy. Big banks also make only 28 percent of small-business loans, while small banks, defined as those with less than $1 billion in assets, make 34 percent.

“A lot of this really is common sense, and it’s about balancing power in your favor,” McNay said. “These are things that could spark a revolution.”


Bluegrass PRIDE marks decade of a cleaner region

September 17, 2011

As a Boy Scout in the 1970s, I spent several weekends helping cleanup crews haul decades worth of junk out of streams and woods throughout Central Kentucky.

I couldn’t understand why people would trash such beautiful places. Did they not know any better? Were there not more environmentally friendly ways to get rid of stuff?

Things have improved since then, but not without a lot of hard work.

One organization behind much of that hard work is Bluegrass PRIDE, which celebrates its 10th anniversary Saturday with a bluegrass concert featuring JD Crowe and the New South and Balsam Range. (The show begins at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall. For details and tickets, visit

Bluegrass PRIDE — the acronym stands for Personal Responsibility in a Desirable Environment — is an 18-county non-profit organization modeled after a similar PRIDE organization that works in 38 counties in eastern and southern Kentucky.

Bluegrass PRIDE has facilitated a lot of cleanup projects with more than $1 million in grants over the past decade, many secured with help from Central Kentucky’s congressmen over that period, Republican Ernie Fletcher and Democrat Ben Chandler.

“The grants were much-needed,” said Executive Director Amy Sohner, who directs Bluegrass PRIDE’s staff of 16 from a bare-bones office in suburban Lexington. “They allowed communities to do a lot of things that needed to get done.”

More recently, though, the organization has shifted its focus to environmental education. “We try to help average people learn about small changes they can make that could make a big difference in improving the environment,” Sohner said.

Among those activities: litter reduction and cleanup; recycling of hazardous household waste; road and stream cleanup projects; helping individuals, businesses and cities learn how to build rain gardens to reduce storm runoff; and selling rain barrels to recycle water.

“With rain barrels, we’ve almost put ourselves out of a job,” Sohner said. “We used to be one of the few places that had them. Now, even Sam’s Club sells them.”

Among other things, Bluegrass PRIDE figures it has helped Central Kentuckians recycle 1,200 pounds of batteries and 4,200 cellphones, and properly dispose of 77,500 gallons of old paint.

Much of Bluegrass PRIDE’s funding now comes from Lexington’s government, which has hired the organization to manage the Live Green Lexington Partner Program. That effort enlisted 350 businesses, 130 apartment complexes and 100 schools in a variety of environmental activities that range from proper disposal of used cooking oil to helping the Fayette County Public Schools save $4,600 a month in trash fees through increased recycling.

Bluegrass PRIDE has worked with more than 230 schools throughout the region on environmental education tied to core-content curriculum. It also has furnished home-energy audit kits that Lexington residents can check out from public libraries. The kits include equipment to identify energy loss in homes to save energy — and money.

As Bluegrass PRIDE begins its second decade, Sohner hopes to spread many of the projects pioneered in Lexington throughout the region. She also hopes to use unpaid coordinators in each county to identify local needs the organization can help fill.

“I feel like we do a very good job in Lexington,” Sohner said. “But I really want to be able to serve our other 17 counties more.”

Fayette Alliance’s fifth

While Central Kentuckians have become better at cleaning up after themselves, they also have learned that suburban sprawl is bad for the environment — not to mention taxpayers, who must pay for construction and maintenance of far-flung infrastructure.

Next month marks the fifth anniversary of the Fayette Alliance, a non-profit organization that has made a big difference in reducing sprawl and promoting better land-use management in Lexington.

The Fayette Alliance celebrates its anniversary Oct. 6 with a party from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at its office, 603 West Short Street in Lexington. The event is free and open to the public.

In addition to refreshments and birthday cake, artist Bill Fletcher will be painting a special work that will be auctioned at a future event to benefit the Fayette Alliance.

Promote Kentucky on the Super Bowl? Why not?

September 14, 2011

It is an idea so crazy, it just might work.

Griffin VanMeter, Kent Carmichael and Whit Hiler are 30-something marketing guys. They also are native Kentuckians who are proud of their state and think everyone else should be proud of it, too.

A year ago, they had this idea: Let’s produce a television commercial promoting the “brand” of Kentucky and get it on the Super Bowl telecast.

“We want to show how much character and influence has come out of Kentucky and is still coming out of Kentucky,” VanMeter said. “It’s a big story we’re trying to tell, and we want to put it on the biggest stage possible. It would be the most talked-about Super Bowl commercial ever.”

The trio began in April by creating a Facebook page called Kentucky for Kentucky. Since then, more than 1,950 fans have contributed to lists and photo galleries of great Kentucky people, places and products.

Kent Carmichael, left, Griffin Van Meter, center, and Whit Hiler. Photo by Tom Eblen

Then, on Thursday, they went public with their Super Bowl idea using the hot crowd-funding Web site An Internet video promoting the effort has gone viral, and media attention has come from, among others, the big tech news site and Advertising Age magazine’s Web site.

Their goal is to raise $3.5 million in 60 days. After five days, more than 200 backers have made online pledges of more than $41,000, in increments as small as $1. They have received two $10,000 pledges — “We can see who they are, so we know they’re legit,” said VanMeter, a partner in the Lexington marketing agency Bullhorn.

An effort like this would have been a lot harder before, which lets people pitch creative projects to a huge online audience. Backers pledge as little as $1 or as much as they want, but their credit card isn’t charged unless the idea reaches its fund-raising goal by the specified deadline.

Backers will get prizes: bumper stickers, T-shirts, maybe even a cameo appearance in the commercial. But unless the $3.5 million goal is met by Nov. 7, nobody is on the hook.

“Once we get this groundswell of support, some of the big people will get behind it,” VanMeter said. “Besides, this whole idea is so much bigger than a Super Bowl commercial.”

So what is the idea, really?

“The short answer is that it’s about Kentucky pride,” he said.

“As brands go, Kentucky is an awesome brand,” said Hiler, who works for Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions in Lexington. “It’s a lot cooler than Doritos. We’ve got years on them.”

He has a point: Kentucky was America’s first Western frontier and has produced the likes of Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad Ali and George Clooney. It is the namesake of two of the world’s best-known brands — Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Kentucky Derby. Kentuckians have created everything from bourbon whiskey and bluegrass music to the traffic signal and the high five.

But, Carmichael noted, any Kentuckian who has lived elsewhere has heard the jokes about going shoeless and marrying your cousin.

Kentucky has more than its share of problems, including too much obesity and too little education.

“People need to believe in Kentucky, and that can help solve a lot of problems,” VanMeter said.

“There’s no agenda, no reason for anyone not to like this idea,” said Carmichael, a Lexington native and a copywriter for Crispin Porter + Bogusky in Boulder, Colo. He said the three of them don’t plan to make any money on this project and are not fronting for any company, political group or “official” anything.

If they raise the money in time to reserve a commercial spot on the Super Bowl telecast Feb. 5, what will they do?

“The least of our worries will be getting the commercial made,” Hiler said.

With $3.5 million worth of public momentum, the three marketers said, they think Kentucky producers, directors, writers and actors would rush to help them make one awesome Kentucky commercial. Are you listening, George Clooney, Jerry Bruckheimer and Ashley Judd?

And if they don’t make it to the Super Bowl? Well, they already have drawn a lot of positive attention to an outrageously creative idea coming out of Kentucky. And that’s sort of the point.

Owner puts the service in Georgia’s Service Center

September 11, 2011

Georgia Clemons is only 5 feet tall, but she cuts quite a figure: pastel suit, black high heels, hair coiffed and a twist of pearls around her neck.

She looks as if she could be dressed for her monthly meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution, where she has been an officer for many years. Or she could be on her way to her beloved Porter Memorial Baptist Church.

But she is standing behind the front counter of Georgia’s Service Center, a circa 1963 filling station and auto repair shop at the corner of Nicholasville Road and Malabu Drive. She owns the place, and she runs it seven days a week.

“I dress like this every day,” Clemons said. “It’s a business, and my customers appreciate me looking professional. I never wear slacks — except when we have our DAR picnic.”

Clemons greets everyone who comes in with a big smile. “I know 95 percent of my customers by their first names,” she said. The seven men who work for her call her “Ms. Georgia.”

Clemons plans a “grand reopening” Sept. 30, 11 a.m. — 4 p.m., to celebrate her station’s recent switch to Sunoco gasoline. Gas will be discounted, and Sunoco will have a NASCAR race car there. The station had been independent after Chevron pulled out of Lexington.

“I just can’t get out of the business,” said Clemons, who has owned and managed three South Lexington service stations over 45 years. “It’s a good business, but you have to be dedicated and work long hours.”

Clemons works nearly 60 hours a week. “I don’t work as much on weekends,” she said. “I cook on Saturday and go to church on Sunday. But I’m always just a telephone call away.”

She never intended to be a businesswoman, much less a service station operator. She was a kindergarten teacher in her native Lancaster when she married Gomer Clemons, who had a Sunoco station two blocks from her current location.

He wanted them to have the same schedule, so he asked her to quit teaching and help him at the station. “I said, ‘I don’t know anything about the service station business,'” Clemons recalled. “He said, ‘There’s nothing to it but meeting people,’ and I love meeting people.”

They sold that station in 1990, but Clemons was hooked. “Gomer loves retirement, but not me,” she said. After a couple of years off, she bought a Marathon station at Southland Drive and Rosemont Garden.

“Naturally, when I went into business, he said I would fall flat on my face,” she said. “But I said, ‘I’ll show you.'” And she did.

After a successful decade at that location, Clemons leased and later bought her current station, which is bigger and on a busier street. “I love Nicholasville Road,” she said. “All the hustle and bustle.”

Clemons said talented mechanics, reasonable prices and personal service have kept her business strong. “Customers know we’re honest,” she said.

The new partnership with Sunoco included new pumps with automatic credit card readers. Her customers like the convenience, she said, “but they still come in to say hello.”

Doug Logan was one of those customers last week. “When I get through pumping gas, we get to talking,” he said. “She’s a good lady.”

Another was Ann Latta, a Realtor who works nearby and has been a friend and customer for 20 years. She had stopped to visit and have a candy bar earlier in the day, then came back later because she realized she had forgotten to pay for it.

“Everybody is somebody special when they walk in the door, whether or not she’s ever seen them before,” Latta said.

Georgia’s is one of the few stations that still offers full service, which includes cleaning the windshield, checking tire pressure and checking under the hood. Full service costs 25 cents more per gallon, although there’s no extra charge if the customer is handicapped.

Regular customers whose cars use premium gas know to fill up on “Wacky Wednesdays,” when it is discounted 7 cents a gallon. Compressed air is always free, even for customers who don’t buy anything.

Clemons’ mechanics work on all car makes and models. Because the station is open every day, from early morning until late at night, wreckers often bring in new customers whose cars have broken down.

“They know we’re going to make every effort to fix them and get them back on the road and not charge them an arm and a leg,” she said.

Clemons’ senior mechanic, Logan Adams, has been with her since she got back in the business with the Marathon station in 1992, and he had worked for her husband before that. Many other employees, including grandson Jason Hale, have worked there for many years. Supervising men has never been a problem. “We’re just friends,” she said. “But they know what I expect.”

The station has never been robbed — there is little money there; most customers pay by credit card — but Clemons keeps an old baseball bat behind the counter, just in case.

She has no plans to retire. “Retire? They’ll have to carry me out,” she said. “I think you stay younger longer if you’re working. You stay healthier, too. I can feel terrible, and I come to work and forget all about it.”

Clemons acknowledges that she is old enough to retire, but she won’t be more specific. “My mother always said a lady who would tell her age would tell anything.”

“She’s the only person I know who gets younger every year,” said Shannon Morris, a former employee who now teaches auto mechanics at a state technical college but still comes in to help.

Running Georgia’s Service Center is one of the joys in Clemons’ life, along with family, church and the DAR. “I just have a love for people,” she said. “You make friends in this business. They’re not just customers; they’re friends.”

Georgia’s Service Center

Where: 2398 Nicholasville Rd., at the intersection of Malabu Drive

Hours: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.

Contact: (859) 278-0914

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo:

Lexington Muslims talk about life since 9/11

September 10, 2011

Soon after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Dr. Nadia Rasheed met a co-worker at the Veterans Administration hospital in Lexington for the first time. The woman asked the anesthesiologist if she was Muslim.

“I said yes, and then she said, ‘Are you going to kill me?'” Rasheed recalled, still shocked by the question. “I said, ‘No, why would you say that? And she said, ‘That’s all I see on television.'”

Mohammed Nasser has a different memory of that terrible day a decade ago. The retired IBM engineer, a Muslim from East Africa, was so upset that he went for a walk in his Jessamine County subdivision.

“People kept coming up and asking if there was anything they could do for us,” he recalled. A few days later, Christ Church Cathedral reached out to him. “They were so nice,” he said. “They said you can even come and stay in the church if you have any problems.”

I talked last week with several Lexington Muslims, both immigrants and native-born Americans, about what their lives have been like since the 9/11 attacks by terrorists claiming to act on behalf of Islam.

Non-Muslims are generally friendly toward them, they said, but they get more questions — and stares — and they wonder about subtle discrimination. More than anything, though, they worry about misinformation and hatred being promoted by right-wing extremists and the media outlets that give them a voice.

“For everybody, the world has gotten a lot smaller,” said Shahied Rashid, an Ohio native and religious leader, or imam, at Masjid Bilal Ibn Rabah, a Muslim congregation on Russell Cave Road.

Generally, Rashid said, Lexington has been “very welcoming” to Muslims. “Not only as an American, but that’s the only thing I have heard from the immigrant community who have relocated to Lexington,” he said.

Mehmet Saracoglu, a Muslim from Turkey and a graduate student in mining engineering at the University of Kentucky, agrees. He came to Lexington in 2004, and two years later helped start UK’s Interfaith Dialogue Organization, which recently has broadened its mission and changed its name to the Intercultural Dialogue Organization. The organization’s work has been embraced throughout the community, he said.

“I honestly feel pretty comfortable here,” said Fatimah Shalash, 25, who was born and raised in Lexington and wears hijab, a traditional Muslim head scarf. “You’ll get the curious looks and sometimes the not-so-kind looks. But, overall, I’ve felt pretty safe and treated well.”

Shalash, who recently finished a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, said many non-Muslims are curious about her faith and why she wears hijab.

“It has bridged a lot of conversations, and that has been a positive experience,” she said. “The way I act in general is hopefully going to show another side of Islam; someone who’s educated and friendly. It’s not what you see in the media.”

Rasheed, the anesthesiologist, was born and raised in New York, went to medical school in Iraq and has lived in Lexington for 20 years. She does not wear hijab, but she has noticed more stares in restaurants when she dines with friends who do.

Many Muslim friends have told her stories of rude comments made to them and perceived, if not overt, discrimination.

“Nine-eleven was not caused by Islam, but people want to say it was,” Rasheed said. “There are some bad Muslims, yes. But there are some bad Christians and Jews, too. None of the religions say you can kill and attack.”

Rasheed said she speaks to many community groups about Islam. “I have noticed that there is a lot of misinformation, misconception, mistrust,” she said. “But when I am one-on-one I am able to answer them and it clears things up.”

While many Americans blame Islam for the terrorist attacks, many Muslims blame Islamophobia for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

“Muslim Americans and Arab Americans are patriotic, we love this country, but we have freedom of speech like everyone else,” she said. “We might see things differently because we know how people in other countries are suffering.”

Jenny Sutton-Amr, who also speaks about Islam to community groups, said she hasn’t experienced any bad treatment or discrimination, but is alarmed by increasing misinformation and organized anti-Muslim activities.

“People for the most part are respectful, but they come with a lot of loaded questions,” she said. “I can usually presume where they get their information.”

A recent public opinion poll by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that Fox News viewers were more misinformed about Islam and expressed more anti-Muslim sentiment than those who got their news elsewhere.

And a report issued last month by the Center for American Progress identified seven right-wing foundations that are spending millions of dollars fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment across the country. Some of them are behind legislation introduced in 29 states that would ban Muslim sharia law — even though nobody has ever tried to impose it.

“We have a slander campaign that’s being spoon-fed to a large population of this country, and they are lapping it up,” Sutton-Amr said. “I’m hoping that reason will prevail and the vast majority of Americans will see through this.”

UK Art Department working to increase visibility

September 7, 2011

The University of Kentucky Art Department was created in 1918, the same year the state high school basketball tournament began and only 15 years after UK launched its basketball program.

“UK was slightly ahead of the curve,” said Art Department chairman Ben Withers, noting that many other universities didn’t create visual art departments until years later. “But sports has been able to actively engage Kentucky’s public imagination in ways that the arts have not.”

He isn’t being critical of Kentucky, or of basketball. After all, Withers is from Cynthiana, the hometown of former UK basketball Coach Joe B. Hall.

But Withers said he wasn’t exposed to visual arts much until he went to college in Minnesota.

“It opened the world to me,” said the art historian, whose research focuses on early medieval art.

If anything, Withers said, artists and academics haven’t done enough to make participating in the visual arts appeal to average Kentuckians in ways that build public enthusiasm and support.

“There’s not that disdain for the Sunday afternoon basketball player like too many art departments have for the Sunday afternoon painter,” he said. “Part of what we have to do is find a way to engage the community similar to — but not in competition with — sports. We have to show that art is not just for the snobbish elite.”

UK’s Art Department is trying to do that in a couple of ways — one focused on the community, the other on UK undergraduates.

The department’s Fine Arts Institute offers non-credit art instruction to the public. The classes are taught by UK faculty, graduates and local artists, and they attract about 100 people each term.

Classes are offered in drawing, painting, ceramics, fabric art, metalworking and woodworking, and digital photography software. The institute also has workshops in beginning drawing and painting, and in digital photography and metalworking.

This fall’s classes begin Monday. For more information, and to register, go to

The department also is offering new classes to UK students who are not majoring in art. As part of changes to UK’s general education requirements, undergraduates must take courses that teach hands-on creativity. One option is visual art.

To help teach those classes, the Art Department recently hired seven non- tenure track faculty from among more than 100 applicants compiled in a nationwide search, Withers said.

“With these new faculty, it will bring a new set of artists into Lexington who will get involved in things all over town,” Withers said.

The Art Department has about 300 undergraduate majors and 30 graduate students, and over the years it has been able to attract some outstanding artists as faculty members, including Arturo Alonzo Sandoval and the late John Tuska.

But the program wasn’t accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design until 2008, largely because of its shabby facilities, Withers said. For all of the Reynolds Building’s large, well-lit spaces, the converted tobacco warehouse on South Broadway was a dump. The building is finally getting some long-needed safety renovations.

But because a proper renovation of the Reynolds Building would be so expensive, UK hopes to renovate another former tobacco warehouse around the corner on Bolivar Street and move the art department there. Renovating that building, which developer Rob McGoodwin converted into the University Lofts several years ago, would be about $2 million cheaper than a Reynolds Building rehab for about the same amount of space.

If the General Assembly approves the project this winter, Withers hopes the new building can be ready for classes by fall 2013. The building is more conveniently located, and in addition to providing much-improved studio space, it would give the Art Department a more visible public profile.

“We’re misleading our children when we tell them it’s all about computer technology and rote learning,” Withers said of education. He said research shows the value of creativity in business success and the increasing importance of visual literacy in society.

“People get more information from images these days than they do from language,” he said. “That’s what we have to prepare the next generations of citizens for.”