Somerset, Louisville launch arts exchange partnership

Somerset Mayor Alan Keck

Somerset and Louisville have a difference of about 750,000 people, give or take, several museums, galleries and concert venues, and exactly one gigantic baseball bat.

But there's one thing that they very much have in common: a dedication to the arts.

On Tuesday, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, announced a new partnership promoting the exchange of art between the two cities.

"It's a big deal," Keck told the Commonwealth Journal. "... I have a vision to promote all that Kentucky has to offer, and I think this partnership is a path in that direction."

While the Louisville arts scene is a fruitful one, based as it is in the state's largest metropolis, Somerset has been making waves itself as of late. Last October, the KET program Kentucky Life came to Jarfly Brewing Co. to showcase several local artists and musicians for television. Master Musicians Festival has steadily gained a reputation as a destination for major international artists to perform alongside homegrown talent over the years, and earlier this year, Somerset's own Flashback Theater Co. became the first theater in the country to stage a new play by Kentucky playwright William McCann in "Boats Against the Current."

Said Fischer, "We are excited to partner with Mayor Keck and the arts community in Somerset. This collaboration will create a creative dialogue between communities in Kentucky and activate both vibrant cities by supporting our creative workforce and offering arts experiences for everyone."

Ron Whitehead, a Louisville-area poet and writer, has visited Somerset to share his talents before, and Keck said that the idea for the partnership came about as the result of a collaboration between Whitehead and local artist Jeremy Scrimager.

"They felt like both cities had booming art communities and asked if Mayor Fischer and I would put our political weight behind it," said Keck. "I went up to meet with (Fischer) a few months back, and we agreed it's something that might be beneficial for both of us."

The partnership is reminiscent of another effort by Keck. Even before becoming mayor, Keck visited Israel to explore the possibility of establishing a "sister city" relationship with a community on the other side of the world. Keck says an international sister city is still a goal, but "this is our way to reach out in Kentucky."

The partnership is more than just talk though; it will kick off with a music, poetry and art event on Saturday, September 7 at Tim Faulkner Gallery in Louisville. The event starts at 7 p.m. and is expected to last more than four hours.

Somerset musician Pearlie Jenkins will be appearing along with Whitehead and the Storm Generation Band, all headlining the arts exchange, which will feature singer-songwriters, poetry readings and visual art displays by creators from both cities.

A similar event is being planned for Friday, September 13 at Jarfly Brewing Co., to start at 6 p.m. These two kick-off events are expected to be the first of numerous arts exchanges between the two cities and will serve as templates for other city partnerships throughout Kentucky.

"We hope to expand similar partnerships in other Kentucky cities," said Keck, mentioning Lexington, Paducah, and eastern Kentucky communities as example.

"I'm thrilled to be promoting the arts in partnership with Mayor Fischer and Louisville," said Keck. "Together, we can show how cities of all sizes can collaborate to showcase the best Kentucky has to offer."