Art Center to expand and establish national glass museum

Published 3:00 pm Monday, February 20, 2023

The Art Center of the Bluegrass has announced a massive expansion project in the acquisition of the building next door.

The Art Center will renovate and restore the historic building at 415 W. Main Street, right next to the Art Center. Executive Director Niki Kinkade said the building is around 12,600 square feet. This will about double the organization’s footprint and space.

The City of Danville is purchasing the building, and leasing it to the Art Center for the next 100 years. The Art Center had a similar deal with the city when they renovated its current building.

Email newsletter signup

The 415 W. Main building was constructed in 1908, one year before the Art Center’s building at 401 W. Main. It had a ballroom on the third floor and shops on the first. It most recently housed Tut’s Restaurant and WKYB 107.5 FM radio. Tut’s closed down, and the radio station is moving.

The main goal of the multi-million dollar project is to establish a glass museum and gallery that will honor Stephen Rolfe Powell. Powell was an internationally-known glass artist who taught at Centre College for 30 years. He passed away in 2019.

The Art Center had a Powell retrospective exhibit in fall 2022 with many of his pieces. Kinkade said that people’s response to the exhibit was so positive and enthusiastic that it sparked conversations about how to continue showing Powell’s work.

“Through the exhibit, we were reminded again of how much Stephen and his art have shaped our community and how exceptionally fortunate Danville was to have him,” Kinkade said. “We knew that we wanted to find a way to permanently preserve his legacy.”

The museum will also include work by other top-tier glass artists like Lino Tagliapietra, Dale Chihuly, and others. Kinkade said the overall project will draw people near and far.

“The adaptive reuse of this historic building enhances the region’s creative arts ecosystem, generates new cultural opportunities, and will draw regional visitors and glass enthusiasts from around the world,” Kinkade said.

The Art Center has been needing an expansion for its art programs. In addition to a glass museum, the new building allows for the possible addition of a glass blowing studio, art cafe, private studios, locations to rent, and a gift gallery.

The third-floor ballroom will create a new space downtown for large art classes and experiences, town meetings, weddings, and other community events.

The Art Center will soon launch a fundraising campaign for the project, called ArtSee. The estimated overall expansion cost is between $3 to $4 million. Kinkade said they are working to determine the exact funds needed.

That cost includes adding four staff for the new building, an associate director, a full time communications manager, museum director, and program director.

They hope to start renovations this spring, which will reverse a long trajectory of the building’s decline. Currently, some upper floor windows are missing and the exterior staircase has almost collapsed.

Kinkade said the building needs a new roof, thorough tuckpointing, repainting, and a new exterior staircase to meet modern safety standards.

To improve accessibility, they will also install an elevator in the building. Interior preservation will include the full restoration of the ballroom, including its beautifully detailed ceiling.

The City of Danville is excited to partner on this project by purchasing the building. Mayor James JH Atkins said the project fits well with the city’s Downtown Master Plan.

“This project highlights our art community and the importance of celebrating our glass artists, keeping us connected to the life and legacy of Stephen Powell,” Atkins said in a press release. “I think this also shows we are serious about fulfilling the objectives laid out in the Downtown Master Plan. I’m excited about the economic impact this will have, not only downtown but throughout the entire community. ”

Danville’s Downtown Master Plan, approved in 2021, lays out the vision for the town. Part of it includes goals to rehabilitate property, create commerce, and celebrate Stephen Powell.

Kinkade said the Art Center is working closely with Powell’s widow, Shelly, on acquiring his art and developing the museum.

“Steve had a strong connection with the Art Center of the Bluegrass from early on, beginning with his tenure on the first board of directors” Shelly said. “What better place to feature a retrospective of Steve’s work. Our children, Piper and Oliver, and I so appreciate the Art Center’s commitment to make this a permanent exhibit, where Steve’s work can be viewed and enjoyed.”

The Art Center is also working with the Fiscal Court for financial support. Boyle County Judge Executive Trille Bottom said she sees the value for the county and the community.

“The Art Center is a vital cultural asset for our entire region,” Bottom said. “This expansion will enhance their already-strong partnerships with the Boyle County schools and support their commitment to expanding arts access to all members of our community.”

The Art Center was established in 2003, and is celebrating its 20 year anniversary. Executive Director of the Kentucky Arts Council Chris Cathers said over that time, the Art Center has transformed the arts landscape of Central Kentucky.

“It has been exciting to watch the growth and development of this organization,” Cathers said. “We look forward to this next chapter and the benefits the expansion will bring to the region and the state.”