Arts & Culture

Back to Blue: Governor’s School for the Arts Returns to UK Campus

photo of 5 dancers rehearsing at 2019 GSA
photo of 2019 GSA student and adult looking at model from Architecture + Design
photo of GSA 2019 student playing piano
photo of Nick Covault leaning on chairs in Whitney Hall

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 25, 2021) — As the COVID-19 pandemic found its way to Kentucky last March, the Governor’s School for the Arts (GSA) was forced to take an intermission — moving the state’s beloved summer arts education program online. But this weekend, the GSA faculty, staff and students will take their places as the curtain rises on the program’s return to the University of Kentucky campus June 27-July 17.

Once again, the Commonwealth’s most creative young minds will be able to learn in-person, with safety measures and protocols in place. In preparation for GSA’s return to a university campus, Kentucky Performing Arts worked closely with the Tourism, Arts and Heritage cabinet and UK to ensure students are safe.

With such safety protocols as mask-wearing, social distancing, reduced room capacities and omission of public-facing performances in place, UK will welcome back 256 creatives to the tuition-free, three-week program. Student-artists from 43 Kentucky counties will again be immersed in a rigorous schedule of daily online seminars, creative projects, master classes and lectures, as instruction focuses on GSA’s nine disciplines: Architecture + Design, Creative Writing, Dance, Drama, Film + Photography, Instrumental Music, Musical Theatre, Visual Art and Vocal Music. 

UKNow recently caught up with Nick Covault, director of GSA and UK vocal performance and arts administration alumnus, to find out more about the program’s shift back to the UK campus.

UKNow: Welcome back to UK! Could you fill us in on the experience last year? What practices were in place for GSA in 2020?

Nick Covault: GSA virtual summer program exceeded our wildest imaginations — and we’re artists, so our imaginations are pretty wild in the first place! We found ways to apply the values of our program — empowerment, affirmation, connection — through virtual means. This included daily virtual all-school assemblies, extensive instruction with the GSA faculty and even a virtual residence-life program. Students still had RA groups that they met in at the end of each day, to decompress and simply enjoy the company of other young artists.

UKNow: Were there any unforeseen benefits to going online?

Covault: Yes. We will certainly continue incorporating virtual visits with amazing guests who couldn’t otherwise connect to GSA due to distance, scheduling, etc. We also have a heightened awareness that our program’s impact is truly about intention and spirit that can’t be stopped even by a computer screen — GSA isn’t just a place, but also a place of mind. I think the students also proved to themselves that they are capable of amazing feats in the face of unprecedented challenge, which was an especially important lesson in the first months of the pandemic.

UKNow: How important was going back to an in-person format this year at UK? 

Covault: While we had a wonderful online program, we are very excited to feel the energy of artists collaborating and connecting in one space this year. Returning to UK feels like a type of “homecoming.”

UKNow: What considerations/practices are you altering to have an in-person program during a pandemic?

Covault: We are adhering to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines, mitigating risks and reminding ourselves that caring for each other’s health is paramount to building a strong GSA community. We have instituted COVID testing, mask-wearing indoors and other preventive measures such as hosting nearly all guest artists virtually.

UKNow: What will those protocols mean for the courses in the disciplines?

Covault: The biggest shift is that we’re no longer able to host our standard Final Day Celebration, when students publicly share their work at the conclusion of the program. However, while there will be many adjustments this year, we’re confident that the spirit of GSA is intact. If we could create amazing connections and artwork through a computer screen last year, wearing a mask certainly can’t hold us back this year! An artist’s spirit is unstoppable.

UKNow: How has UK aided in bringing GSA back to a university campus?

Covault: Our Wildcat partners have been amazing, creative and supportive as we’ve navigated the many variables of planning a residential arts program during a pandemic. We feel so welcome on campus, and we couldn’t have made an in-person program happen without UK’s support.

UKNow: Will the pandemic have other influences on student work, projects, etc.?

Covault: While this year is full of new challenges, great learning always comes from doing things differently and wisdom is forged by fire. I’m very excited to see what new ideas and “silver linings” we take from 2021 and implement into future (and hopefully pandemic-free) summer programs!

UKNow: How does it feel to be back at UK and welcoming students to campus this weekend?

Covault: Like we’re back home! I always say GSA is an act of co-authorship — every single person, including the students, contribute something to GSA that makes the experience larger than the sum of our parts.

With students arriving, our community of artists is complete, and we can dive into the joy of artmaking! To say we’re excited would be a vast understatement. To quote an often-used phase at GSA, we’re ready to “go forth and make great art!”


To keep up with GSA 2021, follow the program online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram of search for #HeyGSA.


GSA is a public/private partnership inaugurated in 1987 by The Kentucky Center (now Kentucky Performing Arts), The Commonwealth of Kentucky and numerous private supporters. Today, the vital funding required to make GSA a reality is provided by the state through the leadership of the Governor’s Office and the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, as well as The Kentucky Center Endowment Fund, Toyota Motor Manufacturing and more than 300 corporations, parents, educators, alumni and friends of GSA. 


The University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts offers Kentucky’s broadest collection of visual and performing arts academic programs with four academic units. The college is also home to the Singletary Center for the Arts and the UK Art Museum. The College of Fine Arts declares that the arts are essential to the life of the individual and the community. The college expresses its commitment to the arts through dedication to teaching, scholarly research, artistic experimentation, performance and exhibition. 

In addition to connecting to a wide array of studies in the College of Fine Arts, students will also have the opportunity to benefit from creative programs in UK's College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Design.


The mission of Kentucky Performing Arts is to build lifelong relationships with the arts. As an integral member of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet, Kentucky Performing Arts, along with the other agencies, seeks to preserve and promote the history, heritage and arts of the Commonwealth.

Three locations comprise the family of venues under The Kentucky Performing Arts umbrella:

The Kentucky Center is located at 501 West Main St., Louisville, KY 40202

The Brown Theatre is located at 315 West Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202

Old Forester’s Paristown Hall is located at 724 Brent St., Louisville KY 40204

To learn more, visit and

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.