Here’s Why The Speed Art Museum Is Rethinking Its Retail Strategy Tuesday, Dec 5 2017 

If you walk into the Speed Art Museum’s gift shop right now, you’ll see a lot of items — thousands, actually — ranging from jewelry to books to art-themed ties and coffee mugs. Many of them have very little to do with current exhibitions.

But that’s about to change.

In the upcoming year, the Speed Art Museum’s retail strategy will transition towards selling fewer items that are more tailored to current exhibitions. And this will result in some layoffs, at least until the new strategy is in place. Interim president Stephen Reily said it’s a decision that comes from community input that area shoppers don’t rely on the museum as a place from which to buy “scarves, earrings or umbrellas.”

On the surface, this seems like a pretty uninteresting move — mainstream retailers are constantly tweaking their strategies.

But this transition actually provides an interesting look at what local museum leaders notice about how and why visitors patronize their gift shops, and how that’s changing.

“I’ve been at the Speed for seven months, and the museum has been reopened for over 18 months and so we had a lot of time — or a good amount of time — to evaluate all the things that are going really well and things that need adjustments,” Reily said.

A ‘Something For Everyone’ Concept Wasn’t Working

The things that are going well at the Speed? Reily said exhibits and programming.

“We have seen membership growing faster and our after-hours events are going gangbusters, there’s been 55 sold-out screenings of ‘Loving Vincent,’” Reily said.

But the retail store wasn’t garnering the same amount of attention — or nearly the same amount of revenue.

Reily said when the Speed reopened, there was an ambitious plan from leadership centered around having a freestanding retail store to sell those thousands of items; think something similar to the gift shops found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the National Portrait Gallery.

“And what we have found is that ambition of having a freestanding ‘something for everybody’ retail concept really is less connected to our mission right now and was not making money,” Reily said. “We didn’t see an easy way to make it profitable.”

Unlike major museum gift stores like the Met’s, the Speed’s store wasn’t a destination for local shoppers. This is why Reily said it makes sense to downsize and begin offering a smaller selection of carefully curated items that relate to individual Speed exhibits. These new retail areas will also be more integrated with the rest of the museum, rather than in their own central location.

Reily said during this transition between retail concepts, all four of the current staff members at the Speed gift shop will be let go; however once the ongoing retail strategy is more concrete, he said corresponding staff positions would be posted.

The early part of next year will be dedicated to determining more specifics about what sorts of retail experiences could be profitable at the Speed Art Museum — which, most likely, aren’t the same sorts of experiences that have proved profitable at other area museums.

For Some Museum Shops, ‘Local’ Items Sell

Penny Peavler is the president of the Frazier History Museum; she also served as the director of marketing at the Speed Museum for ten years.

Peavler said it’s not uncommon for museum stores to go through redesigns and strategy shifts as they gather more information about what their customer base actually wants to buy.

“The Frazier Museum has always had a healthy inventory of local products, such as bourbon balls and bourbon-related gifts and locally-made craft items,” Peavler said. “We’ve expanded that in the two years since I’ve been with the institution.”

There were several reasons for that expansion, which has manifested in different ways.

For example, in September, it was announced that the Frazier History Museum would become the official start of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail; as such, the museum is now pursuing its liquor license so it can sell specialty bottles of bourbon.

Peavler said the store has also increased the amount of Kentucky Proud items it sources, which serves a dual purpose. On one hand, it ties into the museum’s mission of “telling Kentucky’s stories,” on the other, it sets the gift shop up as a prime stop for tourists on-foot.

“And I think our unique location on West Main Street creates a lot of repeated walk-by opportunity, not only visitors to the museum, but visitors to downtown, and we wanted to make sure as a gift store that we had a diverse product offering.”

But, Peavler said, their retail strategy is unique to the Frazier and each museum needs to find what works best for them.

For Reily at the Speed, that means making the retail space as profitable as the rest of the museum; he said both museum donations and cinema ticket sales are at an all-time high right now.

“What we feel like initially is that it will be much more integrated into the other spaces of the museum where people actually are,” Reily said. “Whether that might mean in the cinema, at times, or the atrium, or we haven’t been selling special exhibit merchandise up where the exhibits are.”

Which means sometime next year, there will be mini-shops popping up in various areas of the Speed, in an effort to profit from a retail experience that better reflects the museum’s unique exhibitions.

Louisville Public Library Kicks Off Adult Winter Reading Series Sunday, Dec 3 2017 

The Louisville Free Public Library’s adult winter reading program has begun and will run through February 1.

Similar to their children’s program, participants can sign up and earn points by reading books, writing reviews and attending library-sponsored events. The points can be redeemed for prizes.

All events and registration are free.

The library has partnered with Heine Brothers Coffee, Against the Grain Brewery and 502 Fit Pass to host events, including: 

Star Wars Day: A Galactic Read & More!

South Central Regional Library

Saturday, December 2, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

This is an all-day Star Wars-themed celebration. There will be trivia, costume contests, Wookiee calling and more.

Wild & Woolly Film Series presents ‘Gremlins’

Main Library

Saturday, December 9, 7 p.m.

Join former Wild and Woolly Video owner Todd Brashear every month to watch some of his favorite cult classics and staff picks from former W&W employees.

Adult Preschool

South Central Regional Library

Friday, January 19, 7 – 9 p.m.

This after-hours program will give adults the opportunity to partake in children’s activities with an adult twist like storytime, crafts, snacks, sensory play, and more.

Character Assassination presents ‘The Roast of Stephen King’

Southwest Regional Library

Saturday, January 27, 7 p.m.

Pop-up libraries will also be hosted throughout the winter months at Heine Brothers’ locations and selected local breweries.

More information about registration is available here.

Professor Wins Psychology Grawemeyer For Theory Of ‘Triarchic Intelligence’ Friday, Dec 1 2017 

The University of Louisville has awarded the 2018 Grawemeyer Award for Psychology to Robert Sternberg, a psychology professor at Cornell. Sternberg is being recognized for his work on what he calls the “triarchic theory of intelligence.” You can listen to our conversation in the media player above.

Sternberg on his theory:

“Intelligence actually has three aspects not just one. One is the IQ aspect which we’re all familiar with, but the more important ones are secondly, common sense or what I sometimes call practical intelligence which is just your ability to get along in your everyday life. What we found in our research is that those skills are very poorly correlated with IQ. You’re not going to predict who will be a good husband, a good worker, or a good leader on the basis of their SATs, ACTs, or their IQ. And the third thing is creative skills. In today’s world, creative skills are not optional anymore. Things change so fast, social media, new technology changes, so you have to be creative to adapt.”

On the importance of blending all three forms of intelligence:

“People are smart in different ways. If you just look at ACTs and SATs and school grades, you really miss important parts of a person. And you don’t want a society that so heavily relies on test scores like statewide mastery tests and ACTs and SATs because essentially we’re promoting the people who are very good in school, but not necessarily the ones who will be best at leadership positions or in the workplace.”

Danish Composer Wins 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition Monday, Nov 27 2017 

Danish composer Bent Sørensen has won the University of Louisville’s 2018 Grawemeyer Award in Music Composition for his piece “L’isola della Città,” or “The Island in the City.”

Written for Trio con Brio, and commissioned by the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Trondheim Chamber Music Festival, the 25-minute work is for violin, cello and piano soloists and orchestra. It was premiered in 2016 by the trio and the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Sørensen’s music is steeped in memories and recollections, as well as personal experiences. It often begins in a place that is quiet and imperceptible, but never shies away from creating large, dense musical textures from the quietude.

Sørensen lives in Copenhagen, which is a city on an island. In an interview with Danish music publishing company Edition Wilhelm Hansen, he described how he was inspired by two ideas.

“One of them is very personal, because at the time I wrote the piece we lived in the middle of Copenhagen in a flat, near the very center of Copenhagen,” Sørensen said. “There was only one balcony, and that was our balcony. And when we were standing on the balcony it was like it was an island in the middle of a big city.”

The other, he says, was more practical.

“When I wrote the piece, I didn’t think about it as three soloists, but as one soloist — as one soloist, as an island connected by three musicians,” he said.

In “The Island in the City,” Sørensen often uses the three soloists as a singular voice, who move in and out of the orchestral music. He doesn’t use electronics to create sound, but rather relies on orchestrating in meticulous, and often clever, ways that can easily trick the ear: in one instance he asks each woodwind player, who don’t normally play percussion, to play a woodblock, resulting in an unexpected and disconcerting effect.

Sørensen’s career so far includes an opera commission from the Royal Danish Theater, new works for pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, and France’s Ensemble Intercontemporain. The New York Philharmonic will premiere on of his newest works “Evening Land,” on November 30th.

In 2014, New York-based LONGLEASH Trio played Sørensen’s Phantasmagoria on 90.5 WUOL Classical Louisville.

The University of Louisville presents the Grawemeyer awards annually for outstanding works in music composition, ideas improving world order, psychology, and education. A fifth award in religion is given jointly by UofL and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

As part of the Grawemeyer Award, Sørensen will be in Louisville this coming April for lectures and masterclasses. He and the other recipients will each receive a $100,000 prize.

Louisville Native Pushes To Erect Monuments Of Women Nationwide Monday, Nov 27 2017 

Three years ago, when Louisville native Asya Akca left town to attend the University of Chicago, there were no public monuments of women in the city.

Prior to moving, Akca remembered making a video with the group Louisville Girls Leadership in which she asked public officials and leaders about their favorite city monument: Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay were popular responses.

Then, the same group was asked about their favorite city monument of a woman. The respondents were pretty quiet at that point.

And for good reason. It would be another year before Louisville saw its first public monument of a woman — a statue of Mother Catherine Spalding that was installed in 2015 outside the Cathedral of the Assumption.

Louisville isn’t alone in its lack of public monuments of women; according to a report by The Washington Post, less than eight percent of public outdoor sculptures of individuals in the United States are of women.

“It just always upset me,” Akca said. “I always believed that if young girls had role models that they could look up to — really strong female role models or individuals that they could envision — that they would be inspired to pursue similar roles.”

So, Akca decided to do something about it.

Monumental Women

Dr. Georgiana Rose Simpson

She, along with fellow University of Chicago student Shae Omonijo, founded the organization “Monumental Women,” which raises funds for public statues of historic women that can be erected on campuses and in communities.

The group is installing its first statue this week on the University of Chicago campus. It will be of Dr. Georgiana Rose Simpson, one of the first African-American women to earn a Ph.D. in the United States.

Akca hopes the mission of “Monumental Women” will inspire other college campuses and cities to make similar strides — especially as public memorials to monuments, including those of the Confederacy, become topics of national discussion and reflection.

“The conversation about replacing those [monuments] with others that share a more full picture of our history and what happened is really critical,” Akca said. “And I hope we can continue that conversation.”

Featured Image: Monumental Women co-founders Asya Aka and Shae Omonijo.

Author Robert Wright On How And Why Buddhism Is ‘True’ Monday, Nov 27 2017 

In his latest book, author Robert Wright dissects the idea that Buddhism connects closely with science and philosophy. Wright is appearing tonight at the University of Louisville Kentucky Author Forum to discuss the idea. He sat down to talk about his book “Why Buddhism is True” with me; you can listen to our conversation in the media player above.

Wright on the idea behind the book:

“I’m not looking at the part of Buddhism that’s about reincarnation and so on. I’m looking at the part that is sometimes called ‘naturalistic’ or ‘secular’ or whatever, but it boils down to the claim that the reason we suffer and the reason we make other people suffer is because we don’t see the world clearly.

“That is a claim central to the various forms of Buddhism you see around the world. One thing I argue in the book is that if you look at modern psychology and especially evolutionary psychology, which is to say the study of how natural selection shaped the human mind, you come to the conclusion that, basically, this diagnosis of the problem is correct.

“And one thing Buddhism provides that psychology doesn’t provide is is an actual prescription, not just a diagnosis, but it tells us what we can do about the problem. One big part of that is mediation and I talk a lot about it in the book.”

Wright on meditation:

“The kind of meditation I focus on in the book mainly is what’s called ‘mindfulness meditation,’ and a lot of people in America are doing that now. It basically boils down to sitting down and first of all getting your focus, trying to get your mind to quiet down, quit wandering from thing to thing. A typical way to focus is to focus on your breath, then after a while, after you establish this kind of focus and calm your mind down, you just start observing things going on. Including things going on in your mind like emotions, maybe thoughts, but it can also be sounds that you can hear outside but you find when you observe these things with a calm mind, it’s significantly different from the way you commonly encounter them. That’s especially important when we’re talking about observing your own mind.”

Wright will be interviewed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the Founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, on Monday at 6pm.

Louisville Orchestra Will Perform Handel’s ‘Messiah’ Across The City Friday, Nov 24 2017 

Originally associated with Easter, Handel’s “Messiah” — with its selections about the advent of Christ — has become a holiday tradition for many. Now, for the third consecutive holiday season, the Louisville Orchestra will present “Messiah” in several locations throughout the community.

Composed in only three weeks by George Frederic Handel, the work premiered in 1742. It focuses on the central beliefs of Christianity from the Old Testament prophecies of the coming of the Messiah to the New Testament Gospel stories of the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.

On November 30th, the Louisville Orchestra will appear at the Cathedral of the Assumption, where the traditional Christmas selections of the work will be performed.

A second performance will be held at the Harvey Browne Presbyterian Church in St. Matthews on December 1st.

On December 2nd, the Orchestra will perform at Floyd Central High School in Southern Indiana; the final performance will take place at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church on December 3rd.

This production of Handel’s “Messiah” will be conducted by the University Of Louisville’s Kent Hatteberg. In addition to the Louisville Orchestra, the performance will feature the Louisville Chamber Choir, and a quartet of soloists: Erin Keesey (soprano), Katherine Calcamuggio Donner (mezzo-soprano), Jesse Donner (tenor) and Chad Sloan (baritone).

More information about the performances is available here. 

Actors Theatre Announces 2017 Humana Festival Lineup Wednesday, Nov 15 2017 

Actors Theatre of Louisville has announced the lineup of the 42nd Humana Festival of New American Plays. It will run February 28 through April 8, 2018. 

This year’s Festival program will feature six world premieres, including:

God Said This” by Leah Nanako Winkler

“God Said This” follows five people in Lexington, Kentucky who are dealing with the concepts of life and death in very different ways. As her mother undergoes chemotherapy, New York transplant Hiro returns home to Lexington, Kentucky after years away. Sophie, her born-again Christian sister, struggles with her faith, while James, their recovering alcoholic father, wants to repair his relationship with his daughter. Meanwhile John, an old classmate and single dad, worries how he will be remembered after death.

“Marginal Loss” by Deborah Stein

What does getting “back to normal” really mean? This is the question the few surviving employees of an investment firm based in the Twin Towers ask themselves just a few days after 9/11. While grief-stricken, they work tirelessly to reconstruct their company, but wonder if “back to normal” is — or even can be — a possibility.

“Do You Feel Anger?” by Mara Nelson-Greenberg

Sofia was recently hired as an empathy coach at a debt collection agency — and clearly, she has her work cut out for her. These employees can barely identify what an emotion is, much less practice deep, radical compassion for others. And while they painstakingly stumble towards enlightenment, someone keeps mugging Eva in the kitchen. An outrageous comedy about the absurdity — and the danger — of a world where some people’s feelings matter more than others’.

“Evocation to Visible Appearance” by Mark Schultz

Samantha, a “possibly pregnant” 17-year-old, is haunted by the sense that nothing will last. Her college-bound boyfriend wants to go sing on The Voice, her dad’s asleep on the couch, and her older sister’s in treatment. Then Sam befriends a tattoo-covered musician who gives voice to her feelings of impermanence. This new play explores these concepts using dark humor (and black metal).

“You Across from Me” by Jaclyn Backhaus, Dipika Guha, Brian Otaño and Jason Gray Platt

We gather at tables on good days and bad, for ordinary rituals and once-in-a-lifetime encounters. But in polarizing times, what does it really mean to come to the table? Does it bring us together, or reveal just how far apart we truly are? With electric wit and fierce imagination, four writers explore this surprisingly complicated act, and the many ways we connect, confront and compromise.

“we, the invisibles” by Susan Soon He Stanton

Stirred by a controversial case in which a West African maid’s accusation against a powerful man is dismissed, Susan, a playwright working a survival job at a luxury hotel, starts interviewing fellow employees from around the world. She feels compelled to give voice to other hotel workers’ rarely-heard stories — but as her investigation deepens, this documentary project becomes an unexpectedly personal journey.


In a release, Actors Theatre of Louisville Artistic Director Les Waters said: “The Humana Festival of New American Plays is a leading force in today’s theatre. Our writers explore and define the world that we all share. I am very proud that Actors Theatre’s passion and dedication to artistic risk and courage creates a space for these voices to be heard.”

This will be Waters’ last Humana Festival with Actors Theatre; he announced in October that he would be leaving to pursue personal projects.

In Waters’ time at Actors, his decision to double the company’s commissioning program resulted in Humana Festival-debuted plays having runs all across the country, such as Lucas Hnath’s “The Christians,” Sarah Ruhl’s “For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday,” and Charles Mee’s “The Glory of the World.”

The 2017 Festival was attended by more than 36,000 people, with visitors from 39 states and 57 colleges and universities represented in the audience.

It is underwritten by the Humana Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Humana, Inc. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust.

This Weekend, The Kentucky Book Fair Will Celebrate Reading In The Commonwealth Wednesday, Nov 15 2017 

This weekend, the 36th annual Kentucky Book Fair will be held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, featuring more than 180 local and national authors.

The event begins on Friday with the KBF Kids Day, during which more than 900 elementary and middle school student from 15 Kentucky schools will meet and interact with children’s authors in a series of presentations.

Kentucky Book Fair Manager Brooke Raby says these free events aid in accessibility and instilling an early love of reading.

“It’s a really neat thing to watch a kid connect with an author and if they are a reluctant reader, to see reading in a new light because they have this interesting new insight into how books work or how book was written, and it feels more personal them,” Raby said. “And one of the greatest things about Kids Day is we are reaching out into counties where access to books can be limited in some ways.”

On Saturday, the fair continues, featuring panels with bestselling authors including Wendell Berry, Rita Mae Brown, Ally Condie, Wayne Flynt, Jamie Ford, bell hooks, Loyal Jones, George Ella Lyon, Bobbie Ann Mason, Crystal Wilkinson and the current Kentucky poet laureate Frederick Smock.

“The purpose of the book fair is to create a celebration of reading and writing in the Commonwealth,” Raby said. “To that end, we invite a lot of authors who are from Kentucky, they are Kentucky natives or they currently live in Kentucky. We often look for folks outside the state who are writing books that are relevant to issues in Kentucky as well.”

A full list of authors and panels is available here.

Louisville Composer Rachel Grimes Has An Ambitious New Project Tuesday, Nov 14 2017 

Louisville composer Rachel Grimes has a new project with some high-profile collaborators.

“The Blue Hour” is an ambitious new composition commissioned and performed by the Boston-based string collective A Far Cry. Grimes — whose work has been performed internationally by groups like the Amsterdam Sinfonietta Trio, the Dublin Guitar Quartet, the Portland Cello Project and the Louisville Orchestra — composed the piece with four other co-composers. They include Sarah Kirkland Snider, Angélica Negrón, Shara Nova, and Pulitzer prize-winner Caroline Shaw.

“The Blue Hour” is an adaption of the Carolyn Forché poem “On Earth.” It is written from the perspective of a dying woman who creates a listing of images, thousands of them, all in alphabetical order. On the surface, it sounds a little clinical — but the result is an intimate look at the subject’s final hour on earth.

Grimes said she knew the composers wanted to adapt the work of a living American poet.

“I got a couple of Carolyn’s books from the library, and I knew instantly, just from her language and her imagery and the intimacy of her work, that there would probably be something of hers that would work,” she said. “Then when I discovered this longer poem, “On Earth,” well, it’s enormous and beautiful and deep and tragic and glorious — almost too big to even think about approaching.”

The poem is 42-pages long, an epic by modern poetry standards that would result in about a three-hour musical work if performed straight from the text.

The composers approached Forché about adapting the work.

“The very first thing she said was ‘I want you to feel free to adapt this poem, to edit it, to extract what you are inspired to work with,’” Grimes said. “I think there was like stunned silence for a second because it didn’t seem possible that the very first thing she would do would be to offer us this generous opportunity to edit her work in this way. “

In turn, “The Blue Hour” maintains the alphabetized structure of the original poem, but comes in at just over an hour. The performance features the Grammy award-winning lead vocalist, Luciana Souza.

It premiered in Washington D.C. earlier this month, and then traveled to Boston last Friday. The full performance was recorded and can be streamed for free on A Far Cry’s website until November 17th.


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