If there's one thing Cornelia Dozier Cooper values, it's creativity.
Sit down with her to talk about the Commonwealth's prestigious Milner Award, which Cooper is due to be presented next week in Frankfort, and the first thing she'll mention is U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers at Tuesday's Somerset-Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce luncheon, where Cooper was presented with a framed copy of a tribute Rogers made to her which was entered into the Congressional Record. Cooper doesn't talk about herself; rather, she expounds upon the vision Rogers has displayed in his nearly 40 years in Washington.
"He talked about what he was trying to do for our state and our country. I love him because he's a great Congressman," said Cooper. "What came up to my mind (was) his creativity. We bus in thousands of children to the Center (for School Time Theatre events). It's uplifting, when they bring all those children in who can see paintings and a wonderful play. It sparks creativity, which gives you energy.
"I was thinking, where did (Rogers) get his creativity? Because he must have got it from somebody," she added. "Our country is great because of creativity."
Certainly the local community is greater because of the creativity and love for the arts displayed by Cooper, wife of the late Richard Cooper and sister-in-law of the late U.S. Senator John Sherman Cooper. That's why she's receiving the Milner Award.
"We've got so many problems in our world, or in our country," she said. "What all of us have done (associated with Cooper's philanthropic efforts) is create something good."
One of the Governor's Awards in the Arts, which represent the Commonwealth's highest artistic honors, the Milner Award recognizes outstanding philanthropic, artistic, or other contributions to the arts. Past winners have included former governor Julian Carroll, local author Harriet Simpson-Arnow, eastern Kentucky writer Jesse Stuart, author and activist Wendell Berry, former lt. governor Crit Luallen, and Jon Jory of the Actor's Theatre of Louisville.
Cooper will be one of nine individuals and organizations to be recognized at the 2018-19 Governor's Awards for the Arts ceremony, which will be held at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, September 10 at the State Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. Invitations were not sent out, but the public is invited to attend.
The Governor's Awards in the Arts program is guided by the values of the Kentucky Arts Council, with which it is associated. Individuals and organization from within or outside Kentucky may make nominations, and those play an important role in bringing potential recipients to the attention of the governor. Cooper received recommendation letters from former Somerset Community College President Dr. Jo Marshall, and current local arts figures Peggy Sherry, Janice Turpen, and Heather Massey Foister.
Cooper is the only resident of Pulaski County at the time of the recognition to receive one of the Governor's Awards in the Arts.
Also winning awards this year are names like Johnson County's Chris Stapleton, a popular country artist winning the National Award, and Central Kentucky Youth Orchestra MusicWorks from Lexington winning the Education Award.
Cooper was a founding member of the Lake Cumberland Performing Arts organization, which makes possible a variety of arts-related events and outreach efforts every year here in Pulaski County, and served on the first-ever Kentucky Arts Council following its creation in 1965. She's also been involved with numerous other organizations across the state, has been the University of Kentucky Art Museum "Art in Bloom" featured artist, and won the Master Musicians Festival Lifetime Achievement Award and the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation Outstanding Citizen Award.
She's also known for providing funds to local artists through the Cornelia Dozier Cooper Endowment for the Arts, which grants $1,000 each year to different area artists to help support their projects. One of the first such grants went to Somerset Community College Theatre Director Steve Cleberg to establish a short film competition; Cooper counts this as a tremendous example of the potential to benefit from the endowment's grant money, as the festival is still going 13 years later and will be held next weekend at the college (at which is located the Cooper building, bearing her family's name).
"You would not believe what $1,000 will do for arts organizations," she said. "It's really so uplifting to see what $1,000 can do."
Cooper herself is an accomplished artist, musically (having played flute in her high school orchestra) and visually. Cooper studied English watercolor at Oxford University and has had her work displayed and sold numerous times -- indeed, the endowment is supported in part by money generated by the sale of her paintings.
"What is before one and what is inside one culminates into a painting which hopefully communicates to the onlooker a sense of oneness with the world," said Cooper. "The simple truth, which we share, is God's beautiful world we live in. Let us nourish and glorify it. (Painting) is my attempt to do so and lift the human spirit."
Cooper was also instrumental in forming the expansive theater of The Center for Rural Development into what it is today,
Cooper was born in Madisonville, Ky. on September 9, 1924 and graduated from Madisonville High School and the University of Kentucky with a B.A. in English. She moved to Atlanta and attended the High Museum of Art, where she developed her love of painting and the arts. She married Richard Cooper in 1961 and they were married 48 years, until his passing.
"My family were great readers," she said of her background that led to her love of the arts. "Madisonville at that time was real prosperous. Everybody went to good schools. We had an orchestra -- can you imagine? -- with a conductor in high school."
Cooper is all about creativity, all about art -- but also all about sharing the spotlight. Cooper was reluctant to take any real credit for the honor of the Milner Award, but wanted to mention everyone who works together with Lake Cumberland Performing Arts, the endowment fund, and other local efforts to make Pulaski County a more creative place.
"The Milner Award is in my name, but for 50 years, we have had all these volunteers," she said. "No one has gotten a salary. It just happened that my name is on the Milner Award ... but it also includes all the volunteers s who have worked, and all of the families who have given large amounts of money to the endowment."