Bourbon barrels canvas for new LexArts public art project

By Rich Copley, Copious Notes

LexArts is inviting area artists to riff on another regional icon this fall: bourbon barrels.

The Bourbon Barrel Project on Town Branch will place authentic bourbon barrels embellished by area artists through downtown Lexington to highlight the waterway that flows under Vine Street and Midland Avenue. The display will take place this fall and coincides with the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and the Bourbon Chase, a 200-mile race along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Oct. 18 and 19. LexArts has been selected as a beneficiary of the Bourbon Chase and will pay the $1,500 entry fee for allotted teams that raise $6,000 or more for the arts.


LexArts has put out a call to artists seeking submissions of proposals for barrel designs. Like in the Horse Mania projects, design proposals will be presented to potential sponsors, who will choose designs they want to support. Selected artists will received a $1,200 honorarium to create their barrel. The deadline for submissions is June 17.

This will be the fourth public art project of this type presented by LexArts, formerly the Lexington Arts and Cultural Council, following the Horse Mania projects of 2000 and 2010 and Dynamic Doors in 2003. Another project, Wildcat Madness in 2001, was presented by the University of Kentucky Basketball Museum.

The Bourbon Barrell Project is being managed in partnership with Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company. Alltech opened the Town Branch Distillery last fall, where it produces Town Branch Bourbon and Pearse Lyons Reserve.


Thursday May 30th 8pm at Natasha’s Bistro & Bar – Lexington

Come to Support Town Branch Trail!
Join us for a special evening of music and celebration supporting projects inspired by Town Branch, both as a scenic trail and as the beautiful new centerpiece of downtown Lexington.

  • Van Meter Pettit will discuss the Town Branch Trail, an eight-mile scenic route for bikes, runners, and pedestrians, past limestone springs, early distilleries, pioneer houses, ancient oaks, and the graceful landscapes of our home countryside. 
  • Jeff Fugate of the Downtown Development Authority will discuss exciting new designs for Town Branch Commons, which will open the watercourse to create central areas of natural beauty through the very heart of Lexington.
  • Music by Oldsmobile, featuring some of Lexington’s finest- Jim Gleason, Rex Hart, Ricky Baldwin, Missy Johnston, Marilyn Robie, and the outstanding songs of Tom Green. 

Gather with us as we support Town Branch of the Elkhorn. Together we celebrate our progress, we look into our future, and we learn how we can each take part.

Town Branch Trail

Town Branch Trail

Events for Town Branch Commons Design Competition


Discussion of “Landscapes of Confrontation”
Bradford McKee, editor, Landscape Architecture magazine
7 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 30
Gluck Equine Research Center auditorium, 1400 Nicholasville Road
Hosted by UK Landscape Architecture

Bradford McKee will lead a discussion on “Landscapes of Confrontation” covering how to deals with site contamination. McKee is the current editor of Landscape Architecture Magazine and a member of the Town Branch Commons Design Competition Jury.

​Lafayette Seminar in Public Issues
11:30 a.m., Thursday Jan. 31
Hilary J. Boone Center, 500 Rose St.
Hosted by the Gaines Center for the Humanities

Speakers are local architect Van Meter Pettit and planner Stan Harvey. Sponsored annually by the Gaines Center for the Humanities at UK, this lecture will be an opportunity for Lexington community members, elected officials, and faculty and students to offer insights on the history of the Town Branch and examine large-scale projects from other cities and how they have been implemented. The Lafayette Seminar is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Lunch is free and the event is open to the public. Seating is limited, reservations required. To reserve a seat, please email or call (859) 257-1537.

Design Adds Value to the Commons
Five Landscape Architects Discuss the Importance of Good Design for Downtown Development
4 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 31,
Lexington Children’s Theatre, 418 W. Short St.
Hosted by the UK College of Design

Each of the five design firms shortlisted for the competition will speak to how the implementation of large-scale public projects can increase a city’s value, citing past commissions as examples. The discussion will be moderated by Michael Speaks, Dean, UK College of Design
and will feature Aaron Betsky, Director, Cincinnati Art Museum, and Bradford McKee, Editor, Landscape Architecture magazine. This event is free and open to the public.

Designs on Display
February 4-22 (February 15 Gallery Hop Included)
City Gallery, Downtown Arts Center, 141 East Main Street

The designs each firm has created will be on display at the Downtown Arts Center from February 4-22 and will be displayed during the Gallery Hop on the 15th.

Historic Town Branch reemerges as a key to city plans

By Van Meter Petitt

It is a great pleasure to witness the creative and analytical process unfolding in Lexington around the Arts and Entertainment task force design work of Space Group and Gary Bates.

It has all the ingredients for success: collaboration, vision, deep research, and an open and transparent relationship with the public. In this effort, Lexington is calling upon local stakeholders to work with the best designers in their respective fields to provide our world-class basketball tradition with a world-class venue.

What is truly inspiring about this effort is that it has taken on a much more ambitious scope than a new or renovated Rupp Arena alone. This effort calls upon Lexington to create a conceptual framework to build upon for generations. These are big Daniel Burnham-sized plans that can have an immense and long-lasting effect on Lexington’s future. Everyone who is working hard toward these goals deserves our thanks and praise.

The Space Group project is looking at the downtown as a whole and addressing multiple important layers of its physical makeup: long-term growth for the arena and convention center, expanding the city into the Distillery District, increasing the density of our urban core, connecting to the University of Kentucky campus, and every level of transportation from walking and biking to trains, buses and cars.

What ties all these layers together is one big gesture that connects all the dots and captures Lexington in its timeless essence: the reassertion of the Town Branch Creek in the urban plan.

Believe it or not, Lexington was settled in 1779 along the banks of the middle fork of Elkhorn Creek, a tributary called Town Branch that now lies buried under Vine Street and Midland Ave. It is the reason we have a very long and thin urban core five blocks wide and a mile long.

The ancient and undulating grid is oriented to the flow of Town Branch with no regard for the cardinal directions. Our town is buffalo-trace- and creek-derived. It is what makes our city charming, unique, intimate in scale, and authentic.

There is no other city in America quite like us. What Space Group is proposing reaffirms our unique character and draws a ribbon of the Bluegrass back into the city on the footprint of the buried creek.

Town Branch Trail, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit, believes like Space Group that Lexington can achieve no less than the rebirth of this forgotten creek where our city was born at the dawn of the American Revolution.

At its fullest, the Town Branch Trail forms a bond between city and country, past and future. It will be an 8-mile park-like corridor for bicycles and pedestrians that runs through downtown out to Masterson Station Park.

This narrow ribbon of public space will connect Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden to the east with Masterson Station Park to the west, threading a needle through Thoroughbred and Triangle parks along the footprint of the now buried creek.

We believe that the Bluegrass landscape is our internationally recognized brand and that nothing would better reinforce this special character than a sliver of land and water at the core of our beautiful city.

-Van Meter Pettit is president of Town Branch Trail, Inc.

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