Reinvigorating Downtown Arts Center is Job 1

Leslie Beatty is the program coordinator, a newly created position, for the Downtown Arts Center. She is shown in the third floor space of the center, which LexArts officials hope to finish and turn into cabaret and rehearsal space. Photo by Rich Copley | LexGo.

Leslie Beatty is the program coordinator, a newly created position, for the Downtown Arts Center. She is shown in the third floor space of the center, which LexArts officials hope to finish and turn into cabaret and rehearsal space. Photo by Rich Copley | LexGo.

LexArts’ decision to name a program ­coordinator for the Downtown Arts Center could be seen as a reaction to a drop in use of the 8-year-old facility since Actors Guild of Lexington pulled out.

And that is correct, to an extent.

“I have been thinking about it ever since I got here,” says LexArts president and CEO Jim Clark, who arrived in Lexington about eight months after the DAC opened.

He and Lexington actor and businessperson Leslie Beatty would talk about what sorts of things could be done in the center. But there didn’t seem to be much point in devoting a full-time ­position to the job.

“Actors Guild had all the good weekends for its shows,” Clark said. “There wasn’t any room for us to be creative.”

Now, with financial ­travails forcing Actors Guild to abandon its DAC ­schedule, ­LexArts has brought in Beatty to direct the ­center’s ­programming. Clark says Beatty’s ­combination of artistry and ­business ­acumen made her an ideal ­candidate.

“You have to know the numbers and what things cost,” Beatty says, “and have to know what the artists need.”

Talking about the future of the ­Downtown Arts Center, Clark and ­Beatty are in some ways taking a ­curatorial ­approach to the space, looking for ­interesting local programming, and regional and national ­artists for the black box ­theater and, eventually, the third floor.

When the DAC opened, the third floor was unfinished, but plans were announced to make it a cabaret and rehearsal space. That never happened, but Clark says LexArts is hoping to work with the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government to develop a business plan for finishing the space, which Clark says should cost $300,000 to $500,000.

“We want to keep the space fairly raw,” says Beatty, who admires the third floor’s exposed brick walls and ceiling beams.

Speaking admiringly of venues like the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s seemingly unfinished but fully functioning venues, Clark says, “We want to emphasize the idea of it as a working space and not make it precious.”

And they want to bring that idea to the black box theater, too. Clark has said that one of the problems Actors Guild and other theaters have had in the DAC is trying to work against the black box format.

“Not everything has to be a Zeffirelli production,” Clark says, touting the black box as an ideal venue for staged readings, concert productions and minimalist theater.

Companies that he thinks have used the DAC space well include Lexington ­Ballet, which has presented stripped-down, modern productions such as last fall’s show based on the music of Keith Jarrett and the ­forthcoming Hard Rock Ballet.

“You don’t want to be more than you are,” Beatty says.

Already, LexArts has had a meeting with local theater companies to talk about using the theater, and Beatty aims to continue ­reaching out to local artists. They also want to explore bringing in shows like David Gordon’s Dancing Henry V, which LexArts presented in 2007.

Clark and Beatty say they hope some local groups will come to regard the DAC as home, but they don’t want to return to a situation where one company commands the stage for most choice dates of the year.

“I would like to see us like a little Norton Center,” Clark says, referring to Centre College’s active arts center, “where we put out a calendar  of events and people are excited to get that calendar and see what is happening.”

Walking around the building, Beatty seems a little giddy about making that ­happen.

“This is a big challenge,” she says, “and it’s a lot of fun.”

Here are upcoming events at the Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St.

April 22: Mayoral forum presented by Women Leading Kentucky on the role of the arts. 4 p.m.

April 25: Divine Right’s Trip, musical by writer Stephen Currens and composer John LaMar Cole based on the story by Gurney Norman. 7 p.m. Free.

April 30: Film about James Baker Hall by Sarah Wiley-Smith Ammerman VanMeter. 5 p.m. Free.

June 4-6: Equus, produced by Jim Betts, directed by Bo List. 7:30 June 4, 5; 2 p.m. June 6. Tickets TBA.

June 18-19: Stephanie Pevec Dance Concert presented by LexArts. 7:30 p.m. Tickets TBA.

June 24-27: A Few Good Men, presented by Bluegrass Community and Technical College Theatre. 7:30 June 24-26, 2 p.m. June 27. Tickets TBA.

Oct 28-31: Lexington Ballet, title and price TBA.

Nov. 4-14: The Seafarer, presented by Kentucky Classical Theatre Conservatory, directed by Joe Ferrell. 7:30 Thurs.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Tickets TBA.

Tickets available at the Downtown Arts Center Ticket Office; by calling (859) 225-0370 or visiting www.tix.com.

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