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Historic Preservation Studio Proposes Art Trail for Northern Kentucky

December 15, 2011   |   Faculty, School, Students

Project Credits:


University of Kentucky College of Design
School of Historic Preservation

Students at the University of Kentucky Historic Preservation Program unveiled plans for the "Northern Kentucky Historic Art Spaces Trail" earlier this week at Circus Mojo, a clown school housed in a historic former theater in Ludlow, Ky. Under the direction of Douglas Appler, the Helen Edwards Abell Endowed Chair in Historic Preservation, the studio identified several historic buildings being used as art spaces in several cities along the Ohio River and developed a trail of the sites to help encourage tourism and economic development in the region.

The studio is part of the UK/CoD ‘River Cities’ project, which has partnered with the development corporation Catalytic Development Funding Corporation; Vision 2015, a Northern Kentucky nonprofit; and Culture Now, a Suprastudio project organized by Thom Mayne at UCLA. Culture Now is an effort to understand the role of culture as an agent of change in America’s mid-sized struggling cities

The studio identified 47 historic buildings that are currently being used as art spaces in the necklace of historic river cities located south of Cincinnati on the Ohio River, including: Ludlow, Covington, Newport, Bellevue, Dayton and Fort Thomas.

Each student in the studio chose three of the buildings and carried out documentary research, sifting through tax records, city directories, historic maps and other sources to develop a history for each of the spaces. To supplement their research, and to understand the current social context surrounding these historic structures, the students interviewed the buildings’ current owners or tenants using the spaces. The interviews helped to shed light on the relationship between the historic space and its modern use, on the role of the arts in the redevelopment of the Northern Kentucky region, and to draw attention to opportunities for new partnerships, programs, and activities that might improve the ability of the arts to act as an agent of change in this region.

After evaluating this information the students proposed a “Northern Kentucky Historic Art Spaces Trail.” Douglas Appler explains how this proposal would benefit the Northern Kentucky region: "The objective of the project is to change the way people think about Northern Kentucky, its arts community and its historic building stock. Viewed in isolation from each other, no single city featured in the proposal carries quite enough weight to make people think of Northern Kentucky as an arts hub, or as a center for creative activity. But when the cities are framed together as a group, it becomes clear that the region actually presents an unusually wide range of opportunities to experience the arts, and to do so in some fascinating historic spaces. But you only see that if you look at the region as a whole, rather than at its component parts."

Paul Miller, the former Ringling Brothers clown and owner of Circus Mojo, was excited by how the arts trail proposal has created partnerships that will benefit his business and his community, “The Northern Kentucky community straddles a lot of places, and is often lumped in with Cincinnati. This project has already brought needed attention to Circus Mojo, from civic leaders and other business owners, and I think it has a lot of potential to really help the arts in this community thrive.”

Some of the elements in this region the students uncovered that contributed to the development of this proposal include:

  • Kentucky State Route 8 runs roughly parallel to the Ohio River, linking the cities and passing through some of their most historic neighborhoods. Current plans for the region continue this historical trend of connecting along the river in the form of the Riverfront Commons proposal, being developed by Southbank Partners and the Vision 2015 Catalytic Fund. This proposal would create a traffic-free cycling and pedestrian route along the banks of the Ohio, thereby improving connectivity among the region’s cities.
  • The complex mix of social forces that allowed parts of these cities to retain so much of their historic fabric throughout the 20th century also left the region with commercial and residential building stock that is of high quality, that is affordable, and that is well suited to the needs of the growing segment of the population that is choosing to commit to an urban lifestyle.
  • This region also has a surprisingly high number of organizations and businesses dedicated to the fine and performing arts. These run the gamut from large organizations and businesses with deep historical roots, such as the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center and the Madison Theater, to smaller, newer, businesses and organizations such as Sigra Gallery, The BLDG, or the Monmouth Theater. They also include instructional spaces such as Circus Mojo, the Baker Hunt Art Center and the Children’s Art Academy.

To date UK College of Design has already initiated projects in two "river cities." In Henderson, the college has worked with the nonprofit, River City Renaissance, and with the city and county to redevelop HMPL#1 (Henderson Municipal Power and Light Plant No. 1), a retired coal fired power plant built in the late 1950s. And in Paducah, the college is currently working with the city, the city port authority, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to speculate about future uses for the DOE's uranium enrichment facility in Paducah (the only one in the U.S.), which plans to halt operation in the next 10 years.

The “River Cities” project has received international attention and will be included as a “CounterSite” in the 5th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR), April thru August 2012.

Participating students in the studio include:

Angelene Hoffert
Kathy Martinolich
Sarah Rozniak
Jenn Nash
Whitney Schieltz
Emily Skinner