Behind the Scenes

| January 27, 2011
Joe Massey, pictured in front of Jean Dubuffet's

Joe Massey was 26 when he began working at The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts as a stagehand just one month before it was to open with a star-studded gala. “We were averaging about 100 hours a week,” he said.

Massey has never forgotten the long hours and hard work or the interesting, inspiring and sometimes odd occurrences that sometimes happened behind the scenes.

For instance, before John Chamberlain came to the center to install his immense steel work titled, “The Coloured Gates of Louisville,” he stopped at a consignment shop to buy an overstuffed chair and had the legs cut off of it. When he walked into the facility, he set it in the center of the lobby, sat down and began “throwing runes,” small stones that some people use as they could tarot cards.

“He would roll the stones out to see if it was a good day to hang a piece (of his artwork),” Massey said. Chamberlain, who often had a pint of scotch in his back pocket, would throw the runes and then say “No, we’re not going to hang it” or “Ah, I feel like we’re gong to hang a piece today.” The process continued for “five or six days,” Massey said, before Wendell Cherry stepped in. The Humana co-founder had guided the center’s acquisition of its collection and was not going to allow anyone to alter what had already been set in motion.

“Wendell, he wanted it up. We were going to open on Nov. 19 and we did,” said Massey, who said he and his peers were ultimately amused by Chamberlain’s antics. “We had a good time with that one.”

The day before the grand opening, Massey and the crew rehearsed for 22 straight hours.

Then, on Nov. 19, 1983, the doors to the center opened with a spectacular celebration representing all of the arts groups and welcomed high profile guests, including Charlton Heston, Diane Sawyer and Lily Tomlin.

Massey still recalls the exact words Heston used when he stood on the brand-new stage and greeted the excited crowd. “I remember him saying, “˜Good evening, Nashville.’ I don’t think he ever corrected himself.”

After the soiree ended, Massey and his colleagues went right back to work setting up for the second day’s performances: a morning gospel show and Burl Ives in the evening. “I don’t think I ever saw the lobby until a couple of weeks after we opened,” he said. “For the first year or so, it was at least 80 hours a week,” not that he’s complaining.

The first Broadway show the center ever hosted starred Lena Horne. “She was just the most gorgeous, nicest lady you ever wanted to meet.”

And then there was the 1984 Presidential Debate between President Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. The crew worked 72 hours straight to prepare. Exhausted beyond anything he’d ever known, Massey and a coworker sneaked into the Galt House and fell asleep. The next morning they woke up with the realization they’d missed the “Today” show’s 6 a.m. live broadcast, which had put the center in a national spotlight.

That night, Massey waited with anticipation to meet President Reagan, one of his heroes. Still exhausted, he kept falling asleep standing up in the wings. “I was so tired, I didn’t even have a chance to shake his hand or say hi,” he said.

Today, 27 years later, Massey is senior vice president of Facility Services. “Why did I stay? I didn’t realize it at the time and I knew it was special, but I didn’t know how special,” he said.

Massey initially took the job because he thought it would be steady work. (He never considered that might sometimes mean steady work around the clock, at least in the inaugural years.

“Once you were a part of this place “¦ you’re part of the stuff people can only imagine. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. One of my sons is now a stagehand,” Massey said. “I’ve been through four presidents (of the center) and three interim presidents. I’ve got arthritis in my hands, my knees are bad, my ankles are bad, my eyesight is bad, but I still get up without an alarm clock and go to work. “¦ Once you get bit by it, it becomes a part of you. It’s magic.”

The Art of the Kentucky Center

The Kentucky Center is home to 20th century works of art by a number of world-renowned artists such as Alexander Calder, John Chamberlain, Jean Dubuffet, Louise Nevelson, Joan Miro, Malcolm Morley and Tony Smith. The center’s collection was guided by Humana co-founder Wendell Cherry.

The Coloured Gates of Louisville.

The Coloured Gates of Louisville.

“The Coloured Gates of Louisville,” 1988

John Chamberlain (Born 1927, American)
Painted automotive steel over chrome
Gift of The Mary and Barry Bingham Sr. Fund, The Humana Foundation, Eleanor and Rowland Miller and An Anonymous Donor

John Chamberlain was 30 before he first used automobile sheet metal in his sculpture. In “The Coloured Gates of Louisville,” compressed, compacted and rolled car bodies are arranged to create shifting configurations that vary from near flatness to billowing volumes. The work is actually 10 individual units positioned diagonally on the wall.

“Faribolus” and “Perceval”

Jean Dubuffet, (1901-1986, French)

Faribolus, 1973-1982

Epoxy painted polyurethane, stainless steel armature
Gift of The Humana Foundation

Perceval, 1973-1982

Epoxy painted polyurethane, stainless steel armature
Gift of Mrs. W. L. Lyons Brown Sr.

Jean Dubuffet came to believe that children’s art, as well as the art of the insane, was the truest manifestation of the creative urge and the most direct expression of man’s unity with nature. Inspired by a set of doodles in red ballpoint executed while talking on the phone, Dubuffet began to make “Hourloupes,” which present jigsaw puzzle figures whose outlined parts seem part of an anatomy that never quite fits together. Perceval and Faribolus are typical Hourloupes in their skewed, disjointed stance, and their boisterous, antic behavior.

The Red Feather.

The Red Feather.

“The Red Feather,” 1975

Alexander Calder (1896-1976, American)
Black and red painted steel
Gift of The Mary and Barry Bingham Sr. Fund and The Humana Foundation

Alexander Calder was self-taught as a sculptor. Monumental grounded steel sculptures, like “The Red Feather,” came later in Calder’s career and were termed “stabiles.” Although its four profiled planes stand firmly perpendicular to the ground, the illusion of motion pervades all of Calder’s work. The shapes are joined at oblique angles, skewing the viewer’s expectations. The sculptor walks a fine line between description and evocation, leaving the final definition of what “The Red Feather” depicts to each individual’s imagination.

Night Wave: Moon.

Night Wave: Moon.

“Night Wave: Moon,” 1984

Louise Nevelson, (1900-1986, American)
Black painted wood construction
Gift of Mrs. George W. Norton

Louise Nevelson relied on a grid or pillar format for almost all of her sculptures, but she always undermined the sense of ordered rationality which a geometrical, architectural vocabulary implies. Her mysterious cabinets of discarded carpentry suggest a shadowy magic, a muffled sinister romanticism. The color black, which Nevelson called “the essence of the universe,” unifies the scrap components of her art. Mayan and Aztec hieroglyphs and architecture were particular influences on Nevelson’s art, and she used repetition to suggest obsessional imagery welling up from the subconscious. But ultimately the air of secrecy, the peculiar majesty and dream-like, mythic character of her art are strictly her own invention.



“Personnage,” 1972

Joan Miro, (1893-1983, Spanish)
Resin over steel armature, painted with polyurethane
Gift of Betty and David Jones and Dorothy and Wendell Cherry

Joan Miro was already headed toward a fantasy art when he was introduced to surrealism in 1922. Surrealism’s emphasis on irrationality and the importance of dreams prompted him to use childhood memories as inspiration. With whimsical freedom, he created a hallucinatory world of creatures whose bulbous shapes seem to have been a cartoon-like potential for constant change. Despite its bottom-heavy stability, the two-sided “Personnage” possesses an odd disequilibrium. Underlying Miro’s humor was a sense of wonderment and reverence for every kind of life, real or imagined.

Rite of Passage.

Rite of Passage.

“Rite of Passage”

Malcolm Morley (Born 1931, American)
Oil on canvas

Malcolm Morley was educated in London at the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal College of Art. Morley believes paradoxically that the flatter he paints the more illusionistic the picture becomes, an insight he traces to Cezanne. Despite the flatness, the viewer traces the flow and streams of paint, and so mentally enters into the summer seascape. The animated, almost violent, execution of the painting is a reflection of the discordant personal associations the artist brings to this idyllic view.

Source: Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.


The Kentucky Center Timeline

1980: The Kentucky General Assembly helps establish a major public/private partnership to create The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. Caudill, Rowlett & Scott, an architectural firm from Houston, is contracted to design the building with assistance from the Design and Construction Department of Humana Inc.

Nov. 19, 1983: The Kentucky Center is officially dedicated at a gala event in Whitney Hall. Guests include Charlton Heston, Diane Sawyer and Lily Tomlin.

1984: The center hosts one of the 1984 presidential debates between President Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale.

1987: The Boyd Martin Experimental Theater is dedicated. The MeX is a sparse “black box” stage that provides a blank slate for performances.

1990: The Kentucky Center initiates the ArtsReach Louisville program, bringing arts involvement and instruction to community centers throughout the city.

1993: The Kentucky Center celebrates its 10th anniversary with a day-long celebration featuring performers from all over the state.

2000: The Kentucky Center undergoes a $4.5 million renovation, a major project that includes adding 5,900 square feet to the lobby on both the north and south sides of the building, and a reconfiguration of the main entrance off Main Street.

2001: The Kentucky Center’s Creative Connections Program becomes one of only 21 arts education programs to be included in the Harvard study “Arts Survive: A Study of Sustainability in Arts Education Partnerships.”

2004: The center receives a VSA Arts/MetLife Foundation Award of Excellence in Arts Access.

2005: The center is the recipient of the MetLife/Arts Presenters Award for Excellence in Arts Access. In that same year, President George W. Bush hosts a Town Hall Forum on Social Security Reform in Whitney Hall.

2007: The Kentucky Center is the recipient of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts 2007 Excellence in Accessibility Leadership Award.

2007: Former Soviet Union leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mikhail Gorbachev speaks as a part of The Global Issues Forum at The Kentucky Center.

2008: The center celebrates its 25th anniversary season with a year-long celebration that includes performances by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the record-breaking run of the musical “Wicked.”

2009: The Kentucky Center embarks on an extensive, $8.9 million renovation project. Among the renovations to be addressed first, a new state-of-the-art floor is installed on the Whitney Hall stage and new lighting and dimming systems are installed in Whitney Hall, Bomhard Theater and the MeX. A new stage rigging system will be installed in Whitney Hall in the summer of 2011.

2010: Billboard Magazine ranks The Kentucky Center the world’s ninth top-grossing venue with 5,000 seats or fewer.
Source: The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.

To learn more about the Kentucky Center, call (502) 562-0100, or go to

“˜Faribolus’ and “˜Perceval’ are moving

Jean Dubuffet’s “hourloupes” are heading indoors.

Soon, “Faribolus” and “Perceval” will no longer greet passersby from outside The Kentucky Center. That’s because their whimsical figures will be on display inside the facility.

“They have suffered the ravages of rain and snow and sunlight and so forth,” said Kentucky Center President Stephen Klein. “We’re going to have them restored (off site), and we’re going to move them in to the lobby.”

Klein hopes to have Dubuffet’s works back at the center in time for Derby.

So what will take the place of “Faribolus” and “Perceval”? Quite possibly “The Red Feather,” by Alexander Calder.

Klein said The Kentucky Center staff is considering moving the black and red painted steel from its current outdoor location into the place where Dubuffet’s pieces have resided. “We’re trying to figure out how that would look and so forth,” Klein said.

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About the Author (Author Profile)

Angie Fenton
Angie Fenton is Managing Editor of The Voice-Tribune, a Blue Equity company. She is also an entertainment correspondent for WHAS11′s new morning show, “Great Day Live!”, which debuted August 22 on Louisville’s ABC affiliate. Additionally, Angie is an entertainment correspondent for the Saturday Morning Show with Ron ‘n’ Mel Fisher on 84WHAS (840 AM) and has served in the same capacity for Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks; Breeders’ Cup; and Circuit of the Americas during the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix in November 2012. Angie also serves as an emcee, host, voiceover professional and on-camera commercial talent.

Angie has a bachelor’s and master’s in English from Central Michigan University and began her career as an adjunct professor at her alma mater. She is the youngest of five — four of whom were adopted, including Angie, and none of whom are biologically related. She is also a Michigan native who moved to Kentucky in June 2002. Angie is owned by two dogs — Herbie and Yoda — and feels lucky to have loved and been loved by many more, including Pooch, Jessie, Onyx, Jack and Big Bud, who took his last breath on Christmas Day 2012.

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