Healthy families: Arts Commission refocuses goal, aims to heal and prevent

Published 8:17 am Friday, July 21, 2017

The Arts Commission of Danville/Boyle County is almost 20 years old. Founded in 1998 primarily to promote the arts, the commission aims to create opportunities for artists to sell their work commission-free, and to raise funds to provide arts opportunities for area children. 

“We’ve decided that’s not enough,” Executive Director Mimi Becker says, who took over the position last year. There are 12 people on the commission’s board, and several who give annual donations to its cause who are listed as “members” on the website. 

Email newsletter signup


“I know so much more now than I did last year…” Becker says. She’s just returned from a gathering with other arts-related professionals called the Rural-Urban Exchange Community Intensive (RUX), offered for the first time through a highly competitive application process and supported by the Rural Policy Research Institute. The RUX program accepted 75 members representing 26 counties for the gathering, and the network “aligns people working across the arts, agriculture, community health and small business to work together to transform the state’s economies, communities and sense of self.”

It was like a big think-tank of all types of professionals, educators and theater-types involved in the arts, Becker says. And it was enlightening. 

“What I think we’re most interested in that we learned from RUX is the Higher Ground project,” Becker says, referring to an initiative started in Harlan County. It offers community members a chance to write a play based around a particular topic, which is then produced. This year’s theme in Harlan, Becker says, was needle-exchange. 

Becker says to get the project started locally, the Arts Commission is working with local playwright Liz Orndorff, who has been commissioned to write the first play, which will be based on addiction. 

“We believe the arts should also be used to prevent or heal. We’re very excited about this because it’s a tool …” Becker says, adding the commission has been given some money by ASAP and is working with its director, Kathy Miles. 

The commission would like to develop a program of community-written plays, Becker says, based on topics that are community needs. 

“We’d like to focus them on healthy families, healthier communities — the overall big picture. What are the needs of the community. We feel our mission is to be more than what has been,” Becker says. Not to put anything down that’s been done in the past, she says, but the commission now want the arts to be seen as a tool to help the community be healthier, and really sees that as a big part of its mission.

“I’m happy to say that I’ve spoken with her and I applaud her efforts to take the Arts Commission in a little different direction, while at the same time building on the good will and the history we have in this community already,” says Judge-Executive Harold McKinney. 

The commission, as it attempts to grow its presence in the community, wants its programs to expand. 

“Theater is an educational and useful tool. We’d like to expand it eventually into a couple of directions …” but the first project will be a 30 or so minute play and be presented at schools, with discussions on the subject matter to follow. 

“We feel very fortunate that this first time out Liz (Orndorff) is doing the script — she’s a professional and we think we’re in good hands.” 

Already in the mix

Becker already had some plans to create a few new programs the commission could offer, like the cell phone photography class it partnered with the Boyle library on. 

“We ended up having a waiting list because we could only take so many …” she says. It also partnered with Boyle Landmark Trust to offer a special exhibit for Preservation Month, and will begin offering art activities at Hospice throughout November. The commission targeted three specific topics supporting Hospice’s mission, such as being able to preserve memories in artistic forms. 

It offers open houses now to begin each exhibit, which are usually at the McKinney Center, where its offices are. 

Also on the horizon is Honoring the Quilters, offered Oct. 5-7 to coincide with the The Battle of Perryville Commemoration. Co-sponsored by the Peaceable Friends Quilt Guild, a Quilter’s Re-Enactment Workshop will show participants how to create Civil War blocks and the history behind them. Displays and demonstrations will be offered as a walk-through exhibit during the commemoration. 

“We get a small appropriation from the city and county, and we’re very grateful for all of it. We operate on a budget of about $35K …” Becker says, which includes a small appropriation from the Kentucky Arts Council, as well. 

The commission was recently awarded a KPAN grant from the arts council, which allowed it to hire a consultant to come in and review its social media and website usage. 

“We get a few grants here and there, and we have our one big fundraising event each year (Art-full Affair), but we are actively discussing other fundraising plans,” Becker says. 

“ASAP is helping, Rotary is helping. Other organizations are … we hope others step up to help as well. I want people in the community to feel a part of us so they have some ownership and contribute to the ideas of what we do.” 

Becker says the commission also has determined there is a lack diversity within the participation in community arts locally. Aiming to get more people involved, it has arranged to bring the Louisville Leopards Percussionists to town Nov. 4, who will offer a workshop with 20 kids the commission will select — with help from the schools. The Louisville Leopards are a nationally-recognized group of about 70 kids who began in the program because they were identified as at-risk and from diverse populations. Several of them have gone on to play multiple instruments and study music. The group will teach the kids and then perform with them for a free community concert at Pioneer Playhouse. 

“They will be playing all types of percussion instruments, including keyboards,” she says. The commission will target kids for this program who may have not been able to be exposed to or involved in the arts before. 

“And percussion is cool. We have a lot of talent here in Danville,” Becker says. “The pie in the sky would be to start a group like that here…”

This is our community, Becker says, and our community needs to support the programs which are necessary. 

“If our goal is to involve everyone in the community regardless, we’ll have to raise and find the money somehow. We don’t want to have to charge for the events.”


• For more information on any of the upcoming events or offerings through the Arts Commission of Danville/Boyle County, call Mimi Becker at (859) 691-031 or email arts@historicdanvilleky.comFor more about Honoring the Quilters, call Marilyn Van Horn at (859) 351-9625. 

• The commission’s board includes: Mary Conley, president; David Walden, vice president; Esther Rugerio, secretary; Janna; Rigney, CPA, treasurer; Allen Arth; Dana Dixon; Bryson McGuire; Kathy Milby; Mary Noelker; Jennifer Shevlin; Erin Tipton; and Madelyn Worley. 


An opening reception for the KY 225 exhibit will be 5-7 p.m. July 25 at the McKinney Center at Constitution Square. The exhibit commemorates the 225th birthday of Kentucky with beautiful scenes of local landmarks and settings by local artists.