The idea was simple: Partner The Spirit of Southern Kentucky with Kentucky's largest city through the arts. The idea of 'sister cities' have been around for quite some time and you normally see them manifest through economic, social, religious, or novel ties. When representatives of Somerset first sat down with representatives of Louisville to discuss the idea of becoming sister cities through the arts it was readily apparent that any initial event or events would be looked at as just that. This was a project about bridge building, to borrow from Kentucky's Beat Poet Laureate and Louisville native, Ron Whitehead.
The end goal of a partnership like this would see not only Somerset and Louisville partnering as artistic sister cities, through the initial avenues of visual art, music, and poetry, but would be a statewide model for community partnership. A vision was set for a future in which Pikeville and Paducah, Lexington and London, Covington and Cynthiana, Hazard and Owensboro, Bowling Green and Berea, could potentially become linked through local arts and culture. There would be nothing stopping one city from partnering with multiple cities across the state, or setting aside a season of exchange, or making this effort a legitimate marker for Kentucky tourism and economic growth.
Why did Somerset reach out to Louisville?
"When you come up with the idea you get to pick the biggest prize. Louisville has cornered the majority of tourism and branding markets in Kentucky, but has always had a noticeable absence in southern Kentucky. Somerset is poised for artistic and creative growth and progress, so it makes perfect sense to introduce elements of Somerset to the biggest single market in the state." This rationale was offered by local artist and activist, Jeremy Scrimager.
Scrimager, along with Whitehead, reached out to their respective mayors in the spring of 2019. With Mayor Keck, of Somerset, and Mayor Greg Fischer, of Louisville, officially on board the project began to inch forward. Dates were set for early September at Louisville's Tim Faulkner Gallery and Somerset's Jarfly Brewing Company respectively. Artists from both cities were brought on board to compliment their counterparts in poetry, music, and visual art.
This past Saturday evening, in Smoketown, one of the many areas of old Louisville seeing reclamation and positive urban and economic growth, at Tim Faulkner Gallery, Somerset sent up a troop of artists, musicians, poets and performers to participate in the first leg and initial kickoff of the exchanges. Poets Emily Crockett and Scott Spencer, musicians Kevin Dalton, Tommy Cate, Owen Reynolds, Cory White, Daniel Stroud, and Pearlie Jenkins, and visual artist Jeremy Scrimager exhibited works and performed along with their counterparts, Poet Ron Whitehead with members of his band, The Storm Generation, as well as visual artist Ryan Case.
The event was a four-hour melting pot of poetry, prose, folk storytelling, ballads, jams, color, light, and sound. Representatives of The Tim Faulkner Gallery were on hand and noted a solid turnout and an exciting atmosphere. Mayors Keck and Fischer spoke, with Mayor Fischer presenting Mayor Keck with a plaque, solidifying the events as official. Both mayors stated that the goal was to see the events grow and blossom into a model that could be replicated statewide. See Somerset's videographer, Tyler Whitaker, was on hand to document the event, as well as local photographer, Alex Sexton.
The Somerset leg of the exchange will take place this Friday night, September 13, at Jarfly Brewing Company in downtown Somerset, and will feature performances by Louisville poet Bridget Case,Louisville-based singer/songwriter Josh Palmer, Somerset's Pearlie Jenkins, Louisville poet Ron Whitehead with backing from Blind Feline (band), and will feature the musical and whimsical antics of Ketucky's resident wildchild, Wonky Tonk. Ryan Case will be exhibiting visual art throughout Jarfly and will be teaming with local artist Jeremy Scrimager, to work live on an original artwork at the event. That artwork will be auctioned off and all proceeds will benefit local charity.
These two events serve as a positive and progressive kickoff to what hopefully will be a long and viable partnership between the two art communities and that will create a model which can be applied and advanced between communities across The Bluegrass. Somerset and Louisville are the first two and hopefully will not be the last two communities involved in the future of this exciting and exploratory project.