The Awards in the Arts were presented at Churchill Downs on April 27, 2019 as part of a brilliant celebration of creativity and ingenuity (See page 144). This special annual event is continually curated by the Fund for the Arts, it's in recognition of innovative souls in the local community doing big things to keep artistry vibrant and alive. Meet a few of the winners.
BRANDON RAGLAND, Louisville Ballet
Lift a Life Foundation
Emerging Leader in the Arts Award Winner
From a very early age growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, dance has always been a driving force in the life of Brandon Ragland. "My earliest dream was that I might one day be a backup dancer for Janet Jackson," he says. Dance has always been an important part of his family, his earliest experience with it occurred in church. As he grew into adolescence, he got involved in his church’s black history productions. It was there his teacher, Jackie Lockhart, rec- ognized that he had a gift and took him to the Alabama School of Fine Arts.
It was at age 15 that Brandon would fall in love with ballet, subsequently spending countless hours honing and perfecting his craft. His natural abilities and drive to improve his skill would lead him to many doors opening. In 2007, he graduated from Butler University with a B.S. in Dance-Arts Administration. In 2010 when opportunity called from the Louisville Ballet, Brandon was more than ready. He has performed leading roles in many productions, includ- ing The Three Musketeers, The Nutcracker, and the cutting edge Human Abstract.
Brandon is proud that his art and career are one and the same. "Being recognized with this award really makes me realize that I've done the right thing, and it really makes me want to continue to devote my- self to my art," he says. "All along, I have had to commit myself to believe that it will all work out...and so far, I'm happy to say that it has."
RUTH FRENCH, Louisville Academy of Music
Carnival Cruise Lines
Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award Winner
Born in 1931, native Louisvillian Ruth Scott French has lived a life devoted to music. "Without it, life would be so bland," she says. "It's everywhere you go, from concerts to baseball games." She began piano lessons at age five, then added violin at nine. "From there I just never stopped," she says with a smile.
Through the 1950s Ruth's studies led her to New York and Cincinnati. She joined the Louisville Orchestra in 1949 at age 17. She began her teaching career in '56 when she joined the faculty of the newly founded Louisville Academy of Music. It was begun by a man named Robert French. One thing led to another, and he and Ruth were wed in 1960.
After the 1969 birth of their son, Robert S. French, Ruth resigned from the Louisville Orchestra to devote her full time to teaching. After she lost her husband in 2011, she was elected to be the next pres- ident of the Louisville Academy of Music. She only just retired from that role in 2019 at the age of 87, and today resides at Treyton Oak Towers. In total Ruth taught over 1,500 violinists over 63 years. Many have gone on to perform in symphony orches- tras, including the New York Philharmonic, and others have also gone on to teach professionally. "My dream would be for every parent to encourage the arts— be it music, performing, painting, anything... at least as much as they focus on sports."
KIM BAKER, Kentucky Center for the Arts
Post Parade Wines, Brook and Pam Smith
Arts Innovation Award Winner
For Kim Baker, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts has been an intrinsic part most of her life. As a flutist, she was part of the inaugural 1987 class of the prestigious Kentucky Center Governor's School for the Arts. She would become a program coordinator with the Center in 1992, then through exemplary service and dedication, she became president and CEO in 2014. "I found a home at the center and never found a reason to go elsewhere," she happily says.
Under Kim's leadership, the Center has continued to grow and flourish in ways far beyond a structure on a street. "The Center is really more of an idea than a building," she says. "Our main goal is to create lifelong relationships with Louisvillians and really reflect the needs of the community. We believe in being forward leaning with all that we do." Through a partnership with the Kentucky Department of Education, the Center offers ac- tive learning, process-based educational programs with practical, real world application to students throughout the commonwealth.
The Center suffered a fire in 2018 that was, very fortunately, not as devastating as it could have been but still took quite a toll on the building that gives this concept its physical home. Through a great deal of focus and hard work, renovations continue and the Center is currently open just months after that event, with concerts and shows being performed for audiences once again. Kim credits her fantastic team for their resiliency. "When we all work together, there's not much that we can't do."
DOUG ELMORE, Louisville Youth Orchestra
Arts Education Award Winner
As Music Director and Symphony Orchestra conductor of the Louisville Youth Orchestra, Doug Elmore has put his lifelong love of music to work for over 30 years. “From the time that I was a kid, the sound of an orchestra just lit me up,” he says. He was drawn to the deep and heavy sound of the double bass, after learning and becoming proficient at it he set his eyes on conducting. At age 15, he told the conductor at his school that it was something that he would be interested in pursuing. “He told me that I lacked the patience and could never accomplish that,” he remembers. “I’m still working on the patience thing.”
Doug would consider several paths including engineering and the military, but he would decide at a moment close to the last one that he would accept a scholarship opportunity that he had earlier turned down to attend DePauw University. There, he studied Jazz and Classical music, helping him to grow into the maestro that he is today. His approach to teaching is a calling: “Help kids do things that they think are impossible.”
ALLISON HUFF & CHARLIE SEXTON, Commonwealth Theatre Center
Impact Award Winner
Commonwealth Theatre Center is about so much more than providing entertainment. Through their outreach programs, the organization has touched the lives of over 50,000 kids, many of them from backgrounds that put them at risk. "It's so much more than just kids in shows," says Artistic Director Charlie Sexton, "They come to theatre and don't often know why they are drawn to it, but once they're here they are loved and accepted." Auditioning, practicing, and performing in plays lends a sense of perspective, community, and emotional literacy that so many would otherwise lack, especially students who have encountered what studies call ACES, or "adverse childhood experiences."
Charlie's partner in this mission is Alison Huff, Managing Director. The two work in tandem to help create some of the top theatre training in the nation. "It's so important that our programs be inclusive and accessible," she says. "That human experience of communal storytelling can help everyone to open up and grow. It gives them tools to express themselves in truly productive ways. It's not always pretty or efficient, but it is effective."