In Lexington, KY, Blue Grass Community Foundation serves as liaison between grassroots movements and national funders

User .John Cochrane
Posted Date : August 14, 2014

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This post is part of the #CF100 Series of blog posts. The Council on Foundations is marking the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first community foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, by highlighting the roles of community foundations with this series.

See where it all began at our
Fall Conference for Community Foundations in Cleveland this October!

Lexington, Kentucky, is a mid-sized city with a small-town feel. We’re home to a vibrant arts scene and an impressive array of talented artists. Inspiring, thought-provoking works of art created by our local artists are prominently on display throughout the city.

But not in all parts of our city.

Like all cities, Lexington is also home to blighted communities. In addition to the challenges these communities face every day, they also endure a physically distressed environment.

Yet these same communities are also home to forward-thinking entrepreneurs and community activists with great ideas about how to re-vitalize their own neighborhoods.

Blue Grass Community Foundation reached out to these innovative community groups to see how we could help bridge the gap between vision and realization. We believe that the key to success is a clear, cohesive plan, and—no surprise—funding.

So we worked with local communities to help them identify projects that would have real, lasting value. Together, we worked even harder to come up with goals, outcomes, time lines and line-item budgets.

We also formed partnerships and served as lead applicant for much needed dollars from funders whose mission aligned with the project at hand. We appealed to local donors, the city, the state, the federal government.

We also applied for grants from private funders, including a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant, for one especially promising project: The North Limestone Cultural Plan for the benefit of the most racially diverse neighborhood in Lexington, and also one of the most blighted.

It’s no secret that NEA grants are highly competitive. To be honest, we weren’t sure we had a shot. We applied anyway. And we did receive a $75,000 Our Town award--one of only 66 applicants out of 275 to receive one.

But the real credit goes to our community partner, the North Limestone Community Development Corporation (NoLi CDC http://nolicdc.com), a nonprofit that promotes cultural programming in the North Limestone neighborhood.

NEA Our Town grants recognize that excellent public art helps build stronger communities. Lexington’s Our Town grant will do more than deliver outstanding public art. It will also develop a plan to ensure equitable access to art and public spaces. And it will involve the entire North Limestone community.

Other partners include LexArts, the city of Lexington and the University of Kentucky.

“We believe the North Limestone Cultural Plan will unite residents, businesses, arts organizations, schools and city government to form a cohesive vision for arts, culture and public space in our community,” said Richard Young, executive director of the NoLi CDC. “We plan to work with our community through public forums to ensure that this plan is rooted in its values.”

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray agreed. At a press conference announcing the NEA grant, he noted that the North Limestone Cultural Plan will be the first master plan of its kind in the city of Lexington.

Best of all, the Our Town grant builds on another successful partnership between the Community Foundation and the NoLi CDC—a $425,000 ArtsPlace America grant the Community Foundation and the NoLi CDC were awarded last year to create an affordable home ownership and equity program for artists and existing residents in the North Limestone neighborhood.

Community foundations are uniquely positioned to act as a liaison between grassroots community groups with a vision and federal and national funders with the capital to turn vision into reality. We can and should be involved in the revitalization of the communities we serve.

Our take-away? The most crucial elements for success are great community partners—and a plan.

Other successful partnerships of Blue Grass Community Foundation include:

  • The Legacy Trail, a 12-mile bike/walking trail that connects Lexington’s urban core to some of the most scenic rural areas in the Bluegrass.
  • The Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden an urban art park and trailhead to the Legacy Trail located in Lexington’s East End, an historic African American community and home to Lexington’s most celebrated jockey, Isaac Murphy
  • The North Lexington Water Tower Project, with additional funding support from S.L. Gimbel Foundation Fund at The Community Foundation Serving the Counties of Riverside and San Bernardino, to create a green public gathering space and to design and create a mural on the water tower in that neighborhood
  • East End Mural Project, a mural designed by local residents on the façade of a formerly blighted grocery store in one of Lexington’s poorest neighborhoods
  • Art in Motion, for the design and construction of bus shelters featuring public art

Lisa Adkins is President and CEO of the Blue Grass Community Foundation.

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