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NEA Chair Praises North Limestone Corridor Project

Josh James

It’s not every day the head of the National Endowment for the Arts strolls through your neighborhood, but that’s just what residents along North Limestone witnessed Monday.

NEA chair Jane Chu stands quietly, smiling, at the back of the room while a group of young musicians taking part in the MusicWorks program tackle a few bars of Beethoven. It’s the last stop on Chu’s tour of the North Limestone Corridor, where NEA grant recipients are working to add some sound and color to an often neglected area of the city.

"It was one of the first couple streets in Lexington, so the neighborhood dates back a very long time," Community Developer Corporation director Richard Young  explained, guiding Chu down the roads that once supported a diverse, thriving business district in the 1920s.

The NEA head, appointed last year by President Obama,  advocates for what she calls a “both/and” approach – making room for the arts to grow in all communities, not just affluent neighborhoods or urban centers.

Credit Josh James / WUKY
NEA chair Jane Chu listens as a MusicWorks class practices

"We're very impressed with Kentucky, and we've especially come here to the southeastern area because we think that they are representing what's emerging," she says.

Chu is referring to arts programs that pull from the cultural heritage of individual communities rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all template.

From Lexington, Chu now heads to Eastern Kentucky, where she will visit the Appalachian Artisan Center, Appalshop, and get a first-hand look at other projects receiving funding through her agency.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.