Public Art


Dewitt Godfrey’s Concordia. Courtesy: Richard Young

Over the past few years, Public Art has been getting an increased amount of attention in Lexington. From large-scale installations like Dewitt Godfrey’s Concordia that highlight our most used cultural public places, to citizen-led projects like Eduardo Kobra's iconic Abraham Lincoln Mural (commissioned as part of Lexington’s annual PRHBTN street art festival) that bring new attention to spaces, Public Art has the power to animate and transform spaces.

In the Americans for the Arts’ 2004 Monograph, Jack Becker discusses the varied goals that Public Art can accomplish - including creating civic dialogue and engaging community, attracting attention and economic benefit to places, connecting artists with communities, and enhancing public appreciation of art.  While these effects are certainly positive, there are also several implications that complicate their use in communities, especially ones that are demographically in transition. 

Eduardo Kobra’s Lincoln Mural

courtesy: Lexington Herald-Leader

A white paper published by Stuart Cameron and Jon Coaffee in the European Journal of Housing Policy makes the argument that the use of public art and cultural facilities as a public policy strategy can promote the gentrification of transitioning communities, especially when used to make an attempt to visually “transform” poor and working class neighborhoods.

Looking at communities around the US, there are countless examples of neighborhoods and places that have been visually “transformed” through the use of Public Art. These visual transformations can, in the best of cases, empower the residents and tell the narratives of communities, however, they also have the potential to do the opposite. Ken Lum, with theSchool of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that “it is not always clear in whose interest public art is meant to serve and, in fact, history demonstrates that when poorly planned or when divorced from the social or economic reality of the city or neighborhood in which it resides, public art can be a cause of more public harm than public good.” 

In the North End, Public Art is one of the most visible factors of community change - specifically along the North Limestone Corridor. Heading out of downtown on North Limestone, you can see many murals and instances of Public Art, simply by driving or walking on the sidewalk. These pieces of Public Art are some of the most visually defining characteristics of the community, and set the tone for cultural and community development practices as the neighborhood sees investment. But does this Public Art reflect the community? Does it reflect its culture and values?

What is Public Art in the North End?

Muralist Odeith installing a mural in the North End.
ourtesy: Richard Young

In order to get a better understanding of what community members thought about Public Art in the North End, North Limestone CDC and the University of Kentucky Department of Community and Leadership Development held a series of community walks with neighborhood residents, business owners, and those working in social services. Following these Community Walks, participants were asked to complete a survey on Public Art in the North End.  

The consensus among North End respondents seemed to focus on Public Art being a visual medium. This included references to murals, sculptures, as well as landscaping and architecture - with the condition that all of these things would be publicly viewable, though not necessarily publicly owned or on public property. According to a 2016 survey by North Limestone CDC staff, all works of public art in the North End of Lexington are in the visual medium. 

Respondents also stated that Public Art should be “free and engaging”, “Art where the public has given input”, and “Visuals that incorporate the entire community population and not just one group of the population”. Many of the respondents to community surveys indicated that public input and appreciation was essential to their definition of Public Art and its success.

Ownership & Community Values for Public Art in the North End

According to a survey done by North Limestone CDC staff, a substantial portion of large Public Art installations in the North End are on privately owned property. This is significant, as it has the potential to place control of the Public Art process and subject matter in the hands of private individuals, without any incentive or requirement for public input. With large-scale arts organizations like the Lexington Art League and Living Arts and Science Center in the neighborhood, as well as a significant amount of publicly-owned land (Castlewood Park, Duncan Park, etc.), there are a wealth of public art opportunities in publicly owned spaces.

Considering the amount of murals on private property (which essentially makes them privately-owned), those commissioning new works of Public Art should incentivize them to be installed in publicly owned spaces, and they should be created with sufficient citizen input that they can be reflective of the values and character of the community in which they are created. In order to get a better understanding of the values that North End community members hold in regard to public art, participants were asked several questions as a part of the North End community walks and corresponding survey. 

The responses to these questions paint an interesting picture of how North End residents feel about the Public Art that inhabits the community. On the whole, participants seemed supportive of the use of Public Art in the neighborhood - even requesting that more be created. Many named the creativity of the artwork as their most valued aspect of the work, as well as the unique nature of the work or its aesthetics, color, and scale, and the presence it brings to the community.

There was also a sentiment from community members that Public Art in the North End should be more inclusive and representative of the community, particularly people that are currently living in the North End, and the history of the area. Respondents also stated that Public Art in the North End should incorporate mediums other than murals.

“What do you want to see in Public Art?”

  • I just want it to stop me and make me think, to slow me down.
  • Beauty, Joy, inspiration, (not weird creepy images)
  • {That} it shows respect fully {for} how our neighborhoods were developed, maintained, or ignored
  • More engagement, a diverse engagement in the selection and creation of that art

A Toolkit for Public Art in the North End

As residents desire more inclusiveness and representation in the neighborhood’s Public Art, the North Limestone Community Development Corporation is developing a simple toolkit for creating new works of Public Art in the North End. It will be available at - and will be free for anyone to use. It is derived from Public Art Forecast’s “The Public Art Toolkit”, a project of the Public Art Review Journal, as well as information gathered from LexArts, the Kentucky Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Art in the North End


Lexington Art League
209 Castlewood Drive

The Lexington Art League is a visual arts organization that is located in the Loudoun House at Castlewood Park. 

The Mission of the Lexington Art League is “to challenge, educate, engage, and enhance our community through visual art and the advancement of local artists.” 

The Lexington Art League (LAL) is a multi-faceted visual arts organizationthat operates many programs out of the Loudoun House. LAL is a very community-focused organization which provides several services and benefits to the North End of Lexington at no cost. LAL’s slogan is “Art for Everyone” which “reflects the organization’s commitment to providing free, multiple access points for patrons to experience visual art.”  

The Loudoun House itself serves as the main space for LAL, hosting multiple exhibitions each year in its several galleries on the main floor. The galleries are free and open to the public for access during the workweek, and occasionally on weekends.  LAL also hosts a free eight-week summer camp for North End youth, in partnership with LFUCG Parks & Recreation and the Castlewood Community Center, with the goal of providing a“non-traditional visual arts education.”  LAL also partners with Common Goodto provide further non-traditional arts education to North End children.

The Art League hosts an Artist Residency Program, which “cultivates unique, flexible opportunities for regional, national, and international artists to create new work via residencies lasting from one week to several months.”  LAL is the first visual arts organization in Kentucky to have a Community Supported Art (CSA) program, which is modeled on Community Supported Agriculture programs. The Lexington Art League puts on the annual Woodland Art Fair at Woodland Park and hosts an annual Black Friday Art Sale, in which all pieces of art are below $50. LAL also has a Studio Artists program in the Loudoun House.

The Lexington Art League regularly opens up its doors to neighborhood meetings as well. Currently, it hosts Castlewood Neighborhood Association meetings in its Board Room on a monthly basis.

Event at the Lexington Art League. Courtesy: Lexington Art League


Interior, Lexington Art League. Courtesy: Lexington Art League

Living Arts and Science Center
362 N Martin Luther King Boulevard

The Living Arts and Science Center sits on the border of Lexington’s North and East Ends, on Martin Luther King Boulevard. The Living Arts and Science Center “inspires participation in art and science by engaging the community through education, discovery, exploration and creativity.”

The Living Arts and Science Center (LASC) annually conducts over 300 classes and workshops for children and adults in their space, and hosts field trips for over 7,500 children each year. Their gallery space andeducation rooms host many of these classes in addition to the the handful of gallery exhibits that change throughout the year. 

LASC also puts a particular emphasis on neighborhood and community stewardship. They frequently host community meetings and gatherings. They offer professional development and training for teachers, along with free arts and science classes and workshops for many social service and community organizations in the area. They have programming specifically geared to“reduce barriers and make creativity and educational programs accessible to all,” in their various outreach programs. 

In 2016, the Living Arts and Science Center opened its brand-new 11,000 sq.ft. expansion which includes a planetarium and a makerspace, as well as a rooftop patio, and is surrounded by a working edible farm, rain gardens, and recycled water features.

Living Arts and Science Center. Courtesy: Smiley Pete Publishing

The Parachute Factory
720 Bryan Avenue

The Parachute Factory is a recently opened space inside the old parachute factory located at the intersection of North Limestone and the 700 block of Bryan Avenue. It “exists as a non-profit, multi-use space to promote artistic endeavors and community engagement.” They “provide a friendly and inviting exhibition space for artists that not only heralds artistic merit, but also thrives through community outreach.”

Parachute Factory. Courtesy: Parachute Factory

Homegrown Press
569 North Limestone Street

Homegrown Press is the studio of John Lackey, a block printer, painter and filmmaker. One of the main stops in the North End of LexArts’ quarterly “Gallery Hop,” Homegrown Press has been in the North End of Lexington since 2010. 

Homegrown Press. Courtesy: Homegrown Press

Al’s Bar
601 North Limestone

Al’s Bar is a fixture in the North End of Lexington. It is a home and hub for national, regional, and local music on almost every night of the week. It hosts a Cult Film Series on the first Thursday of every month, and also has its own comedy series, highlighting local and regional comedians.

Al’s Bar is also home to the Holler Poets Series, a monthly poetry series started by Eric Scott Sutherland in 2008. Holler Poets has featured a host of Kentucky’s literary talent including National Book Award winner Nikky Finney, Kentucky Poet Laureates Frank X Walker and George Ella Lyon, Silas House, Gurney Norman, and many, many more.

Holler Poets Series at Al’s Bar. Courtesy: Lexington Herald-Leader

North Limestone MusicWorks
209 Castlewood Drive

North Limestone MusicWorks is a daily orchestral music education program based in the Loudoun House at Castlewood Park that serves students of Arlington Elementary in the North End. It is the first El Sistema-inspired program in the state of Kentucky, and provides daily, free group musical instruction to over 40 North End children. North Limestone MusicWorks, and the philosophy behind it, will be touched on in depth later in this document.

North Limestone MusicWorks. 
ourtesy: Lexington Herald-Leader

Community Engagements Through the Arts Class- Transylvania University

Community Engagements Through the Arts is an annual class taught byKremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde, two professors at Transylvania University. Community Engagements Through the Arts (CETA) seeks to build meaningful relationships between Transylvania University students and the community that surrounds the University through community art projects. 

CETA regularly invites community leaders from the North and East Ends of Lexington into the classroom (which is often located in one of these neighborhoods)  to tell their story of what their places mean to them. The class has partnered on a number of projects with members of the community, including creating superhero capes for neighborhood youth, constructing bird houses to demonstrate the connection between neighbors and what “home” means to them, and many other projects.


CETA’s Birdhouses. Courtesy: Lexington Herald-Leader

Wild Fig Books + Coffee
726 North Limestone Street

Wild Fig Books is a relatively recent addition to the North End of Lexington. It has quickly become a staple of the community, and an incredibly important business to the neighborhood. Wild Fig, run by two artists, hosts a weekly free storytime for neighborhood youth, regular poetry and literature readings, as well as open mic nights and musical performances. It is also one of the very few locations in the North End where books are available for purchase - and the only one which offers local authors, poetry, graphic novels, and more. Wild Fig has a mix of new and used books, as well as light snacks and coffee.

Wild Fig Books + Coffee. Courtesy: Kris Nonn

The Night Market
700 Bryan Avenue

The Night Market is a monthly pop-up open air market put on by the North Limestone CDC. It is free and open to the public, and runs from 6 pm to 10 pm. It primarily serves as a platform for North End businesses, artists, and nonprofits to grow, but it also serves as a way to highlight the creativity in the North End.

To make the Night Market possible, the 700 block of Bryan Avenue is temporarily closed to traffic on the day of the market. The street is lined on both sides by vendor booths, and the street is transformed through lighting, street trees, planters, and temporary art installations. On both ends of the market, there are food vendors from Northside restaurants, food trucks, and individuals aspiring to start new culinary businesses. In the parking lot just off of Bryan Ave, there is a beer draft trailer and biergarten courtesy of Northside brewery West Sixth Brewing, and live music from local and regional bands.

The Night Market. Courtesy: Kris Nonn

Further South on North Limestone Street

The area just south of the North End, situated alongthe North Limestone Corridor between Downtown Lexington and the Martin Luther King neighborhood, holds a number of artistic venues.  Somewould consider this a part of the North Limestone Neighborhood, as the North Limestone Neighborhood Association boundaries do stretch from Downtown to New Circle Road. Given that association, as well as their incredibly close proximity to the North End, a few of these locations are highlighted below.

Institute 193
193 North Limestone Street

Institute 193. Courtesy: Institute 193

Institute 193 is a non-profit organization and gallery spaces that “embraces the notion that groundbreaking contemporary art can and does emerge outside of large metropolitan centers.” It focuses on high-quality and relevant artists from Kentucky and the South, and helps these artists gain broader exposure in the art world and markets. 

Institute 193’s gallery space on North Limestone hosts musical performances, film screenings, lectures, and other community-driven events in addition to visual art exhibitions.

Third Street Stuff
257 North Limestone Street

Third Street Stuff is a coffee and variety shop located just south of the intersection of 3rd Street and North Limestone Street. It is widely regarded as the main unofficial cultural center of the city, and was described in a 2016 Lexington Herald-Leader article as “a hub for activism.”  

Third Street Stuff features art from and by community members, and newspaper articles of local artists and activists are pasted on the walls and countertops. 

Third Street Stuff. Courtesy: Lexington Herald-Leader

Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning
251 West Second Street

The Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning is a landmark in the literary community of Kentucky. It is a non-profit family learning center for literacy education for individuals of all ages and learning levels that also provides support for writers. According to their website, “the Carnegie Center has long been a haven for writers, and we have built on that tradition to become a home to diverse groups of people who love to read, to discuss, to explore, to play, to create, and to learn.” Heavily rooted in the community, the Carnegie Center has an open-door policy, and draws many from the surrounding neighborhoods for language training, technology literacy education, and many other diverse forms of programming. 

Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. Courtesy: Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning

Fusion Gallery
120 West Third Street

Fusion Gallery is a combination computer shop and art gallery that hosts a wide range of events, including kids’ art classes and salsa dancing classes. The gallery features the work of Kentucky artist Enrique Gonzalez.

Fusion Gallery. Courtesy: Fusion Gallery

Art, Creativity, and Community Development


In the past decade, there has been a lot of conversation regarding the role of the arts and creativity in community development practices. Given the heavy focus of this cultural plan on the other aspects of culture aside from art and creativity, it would be irresponsible to not discuss two of the largest topics of national discussion at this point of intersection, those being, creative placemaking and art-influenced gentrification. Some see these two topics as one and the same, or at the very least intertwined. Whatever viewpoint one may have, it is undeniable that art and creativity can bring enormous benefits to community development efforts - if done in the right way.

Creative Placemaking

Creative Placemaking is a movement that seeks to place arts and culture at the table in conversations regarding comprehensive community development. The concept emerged from work done by the National Endowment for the Arts that sought to leverage other federal government agencies to provide additional support for the arts and the roles that artists play in communities. The idea was that art and artists are uniquely suited to have a significant impact on a community’s sense of place and identity, and that their involvement can bring enormous benefit to community development efforts. 

The concept was more clearly articulated through a white paper commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts. In it, the authors Anne Marusken and Anne Gadwa Nicodemus gave a specific definition to the concept: 

In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.

Following the release of this white paper, the National Endowment for the Arts created a program to support creative placemaking projects on a national scale. This support was housed in their Our Town program. The Our Town program, as well as countless philanthropic initiatives, have catapulted creative placemaking into the consciousness of national practitioners. It has shifted the conversation around city design and community development towards one that many agree has a greater potential than traditional community development practices to be adaptive, creative, and dynamic. 

Examples of creative placemaking can be found throughout the country, and can be interpreted in many different ways. Whether it be working with cultural organizers to build relationships across rural and urban divides, using action figures to help community members describe power dynamics in their neighborhood, or working with artists to change perceptions about mass transit, art, creativity, and culture can bring new perspectives to community development.

In the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2016 book How to do Creative Placemaking, countless practitioners from different regions of the US weigh in on their view of creative placemaking. In it, Carlton Turner, from the organization Alternate ROOTS, describes creative placemaking's role:

we must shift the community development process from only engaging an advisory board or team of artists during the implementation phase to working with the creative community from the very beginning…. One example of this, within Alternate ROOTS, is the work of Clear Creek Collective. As cultural organizers in the mountains of central Kentucky, they use indigenous art, folk songs, and storytelling that is very much connected to the identity of their local culture. Through this approach, they offer an entry point for the community to voice their ideas and thoughts on how development happens.


Another conversation regarding the intersection of community development and art is that of art and artists being used as a tactic for economic and real estate development. Largely buoyed by renewed interest in urban living among young professionals, one can see correlations between cities known for their arts as well as rapidly increasing property values - like San Francisco’s Mission District or Brooklyn.

The foundations of this area of tension can be traced to multiple places, but an obvious one is Richard Florida's book The Rise of the Creative Class. In it, Florida articulates that cities should be designed around a new type of consumer - young “creatives” that desire experiences, and want to live in more urban contexts.

While not the sole cause, this has led reorientation of many cities’ development strategies to incentivize infill and redevelopment in their urban cores (trends towards environmental sustainability have also heavily contributed, as have other population trends). The relatively low property values of neighborhoods in these urban cores (largely left behind by the mostly white, affluent outmigration of the 20th century) provide opportunities for artists of this younger generation to find cheap space for both living and working. The common belief is that once artists have made the initial investments, real estate developers can swoop in and make investments in property that eventually drive up housing costs

The well-established belief that artists are the “pioneers” of development by being the first people on the ground in neighborhoods that are ripe for economic transformation has been touched on frequently. In a 2013 article, Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, one of the co-authors of the original Creative Placemaking white paper, attempts to untangle the culpability of artists in wholesale neighborhood change. In it, she says: “The role of artists as gentrifiers is, unfortunately, deeply entrenched in our collective popular imagination. People intuitively feel artists are attracted to down and out neighborhoods and can invest sweat equity, money, and artist juju into properties.” Nicodemus goes on to articulate that neighborhoods gentrified through the efforts of artists are often highly visible - while neighborhoods gentrified without the involvement of artists do not necessarily get the same amount of attention or scrutiny. 

This conflict has muddied the waters around the intentions behind creative placemaking efforts. Some take a look at the role that artists have played in gentrification and interpret the spread of creative placemaking as a more intentional and focused version of this type of arts-based gentrification. In How to do Creative Placemaking, Maria Lopez de Leon  (Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures) discusses this tension:

Fortunately, there exist today many examples of successful creative placemaking models that work with diverse communities…

For example, in Puerto Rican neighborhoods within New York, Philadelphia, and many other locales, there exists the tradition of the Casitas. These are creative, social hubs for the performance of music, dance, and other expressions that transmit cultural knowledge to the broader city and engage participants not merely as audiences or consumers, but as interpreters of a shared experience. Creative placemaking practitioners are well-placed to strategically focus on the thousands of grassroots arts and cultural organizations like these in neighborhoods across the country, and invest in the growth and stabilization of “already made” creative sites and contribute to their growth and stabilization.

Unfortunately, unhealthy models of creative placemaking also exist in neighborhoods across our country, models that result in gentrification and the eventual displacement of the people who call that place home. This work often results in the disarticulation of a community’s cultural practices and its replacement with a culture driven simply by financial imperatives. An example that comes to mind is the ongoing gentrification of San Francisco’s Mission District, where a predominantly Latino working class is being displaced by skyrocketing rents and increased costs of housing. Many Latino artists and cultural practitioners and organizations, such as Galeria de la Raza and the Mission Cultural Center—who have lived and worked in the Mission District for decades—have been priced out of their homes and work spaces.

Anne Gadwa Nicodemus also talks about this in a post on create.equity, where she explains that given creative placemaking’s focus on cross-sector relationships, power dynamics that are already at play in the greater scheme of things (that mayors and developers have more political and social capital than artists do) could continue to play out, changing the intent behind creative placemaking projects. Specifically, she says that “though creative placemaking initiatives can and often do empower artists, they also run the risk of paying lip service to artist involvement or worse, even using them for nefarious purposes like the exaggerated ‘shock troops’ of gentrification claim that has caught hold of our collective imagination.”

A white paper funded by the National Endowment for the Arts’ Our Town program studying the role of arts and neighborhood change showed that the impact that the arts have on neighborhood change depended on the types of arts activities that were present. Specifically: “We find that different arts activities are associated with different types and levels of neighborhood change. Commercial arts industries show the strongest association with gentrification in rapidly changing areas while the fine arts are associated with stable, slow growth neighborhoods.” It should not be a surprise that communities which contain profit-driven arts sectors are more likely to produce economic conditions for gentrification and its correlated outcomes.

When trying to identify the impact of this creative placemaking/community development/gentrification/art intersection in any given community, it must be approached from a nuanced and context-dependent viewpoint. There are risks of over-simplification in attempting to create a framework to determine in what cases these intersections are “positive” or “negative” for a community. However, there is a thread that can be pulled through many of the examples and discussions brought up in this section which can serve as an overarching tendency. Art and creativity, when focused on processes and non-commercial products, tends to play a positive role in community development efforts, as distinguished from a product-based or commercial role.

El Sistema & Art as a Community Development Process

One clear example of art applied as a process for community development is the El Sistema music education pedagogy.

El Sistema was founded by Dr. Antonio Jose Abreau, an economist in the Venezuelan government. It has become an internationally recognized practice of community, social, and cognitive development through the intensive application of group musical instruction. Since its beginnings in the 1970s, it has received acclaim from across the world, including being awarded the UNESCO International Music Prize, the United Nations International Arts Prize, and has gained recognition as a UNICEF National Ambassador program. Abreau himself was named UNESCO Peace Ambassador. 

El Sistema, at its core, is a youth development program that focuses on a mission of social change that is executed through group musical learning. Its unofficial mantra “Tocar y Luchar” roughly translates to “To Play and To Fight.” It uses music to enable all individuals who participate to feel as though they are an asset within their community, and differs from traditional music education in significant ways. Artistically, El Sistema generally is based in orchestral music, but can also include choral and popular music. 

El Sistema programs generally are place-based, focusing on a centralized location called a “nucelo,” and it generally focuses on a specific geographic area such as a neighborhood. The location is consistent, close to where participants live, and generally functions as a safe space for learning and camaraderie amongst participants where they are encouraged to explore their potential. Participants usually start at a young age (7 or 8), but can include all ages up through adults.

El Sistema differs from traditional western music education in many ways, including a focus on intensity and group learning.  

Participants spend a significant amount of time rehearsing at their nucleo, many hours per day, and almost all days of the week, often up to four hours per day, six days per week. These consistent rehearsals demand a commitment and personal responsibility from participants, and teach a strong work ethic. Through frequent rehearsals and performances, students have many opportunities to excel and to share their accomplishments with their peers, family and community. 

In traditional music education, you learn on your own for the privilege of playing with others; in El Sistema, the focus is on learning with others first. This change in approach gives all participants an ownership of the creation process, and gives them responsibility for their own development, as well as the development of the collective.  This collective orchestra acts as a model society in which an atmosphere of competition between individuals is replaced by shared struggle and achievement.

From a youth development perspective, El Sistema focuses on access and excellence. There are no restrictions for entry into the programs, which usually cost nothing to the participants. It includes as many children as it can, bringing young people into its community whenever possible, as young as possible, for as long as possible, whatever their background or abilities.

As El Sistema strives single-mindedly toward musical excellence for all students, it also provides intensive training at “Academies” for the most committed and gifted, preparing them for the highest-level national orchestras and cultivating them as leaders in their own communities. In this way and others, the ideals of access and excellence are maintained in a productive balance that maximizes both the fullest success for all and highest accomplishment for some.

Family participation is an essential goal of El Sistema. Siblings often go to the same nucleo, parents attend classes with the youngest students, and families form the bulk of the audience at orchestra concerts. Many nucleos also include musical ensembles that involve parents of the participants, and all actively work to involve the community at large it through frequent performances.

Additionally, each nucleo is tied to the many other nucleos that form the El Sistema network. These interdependent relationships are manifested through events such as “seminarios,” which are intensive, project-based musical retreats where orchestras share repertoire, streamline technique, and build personal and institutional relationships. By uniting students and teachers from disparate parts of the country, the nucleo network embodies the El Sistema ideals of sharing and learning.

El Sistema asserts that all human beings have the right to a life of dignity and contribution, and that every child can learn to experience and express music and art deeply, and receive its many benefits.

The North End of Lexington has its own El Sistema program - North Limestone MusicWorks - which operates out of the Loudoun House in Castlewood Park.

MusicWorks draws over 40 students daily from Arlington Elementary and surrounding school districts for 2.5 hours of group musical development. Founded in 2013 by Central Kentucky Youth Orchestras, in a partnership with the North Limestone CDC, MusicWorks has grown from a small group of participants to two performing ensembles that rehearse five days per week from 3:00pm - 5:30pm. The entire program - which is staffed by a program director and two teaching-artists- runs on an annual budget of $75,000, amounting to an annual investment of roughly $1,875 per child, since MusicWorks is completely free to participants.

Anna Hess, the program director of MusicWorks, describes that the program has “an ability to create empathy among students,” and gives participants as young as 6 or 7 the ability to be “bold and brave in a safe space, allowing all of the participants to lead.” She also noted that in discussion with the elementary teachers of MusicWorks participants, many teachers noticed significant improvements in the confidence and self-esteem of those that had participated in the program.

In many respects, El Sistema is a perfect model for the use of artistic practice and process to achieve community development aims. Its approach to education, youth empowerment, and group health is not motivated by profit, but by community betterment. It strives to achieve the same aims as many social service organizations, but it does so through creativity, self-expression, and group development.

There are also many things that community development practitioners can learn from El Sistema. El Sistema teaches that one never arrives, but is always in a state of becoming—striving to include more, achieve greater excellence, and grow as an ensemble. Flexibility, experimentation, risk-taking, and collective struggle and growth are inherent and desirable aspects of every El Sistema program. All of these principles are principles that should be shared by community development practitioners.

MusicWorks Performance. Courtesy: MusicWorks




Create a Public Art toolkit for planning, funding, and public process recommendations to enable more neighborhood residents to take control of Public Art creation


Create a North End public art advisory committee made up of key stakeholders (residents, business owners, arts organizations, and others) to help connect individuals and organizations wishing to install Public Art with other community members for input and to provide assistance with promotion and education for community-focused Public Art.


Encourage individuals and organizations installing Public Art in the North End to hold at least one (1) community meeting prior to planning a installation to get more input from North End residents and business owners, as guided by the toolkit.


Encourage Public Art installations to be more inclusive of community history, values, and other characteristics valued by North End residents and business owners. 


Encourage the creation of Public Art to take place on publicly-owned land such as parks, community centers, and more.


Convene arts entities and individual artists in the North End to determine needs and create strategies to solve those issues


Support artistic efforts that are non-commercially based that highlight North End culture


Include artists in conversations around community development processes at all stages - including conception, planning, engagement, and execution