Arts & Culture

Ch-ch-changes: Governor's School for the Arts, UK partnership celebrates 5 years of change and growth


LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 8, 2023) — When University of Kentucky welcomed the Governor's School for the Arts (GSA) to campus in 2019, there was no way either party could have predicted how the partnership would evolve.

From serving a class of 256 to now more than 500 of the state’s brightest creative young minds, to taking nine hands-on fields of study from the stage and studio to online screens and back again, the program has not only weathered the storm of year-to-year modifications, but also a global pandemic and the expansion of the program itself.

Everything was new in 2019 as GSA got acquainted with the wide array of studies in UK’s College of Fine Arts, and creative writing in the College of Arts and Sciences and architecture in the College of Design.

“From the facilities to the resources on (UK’s) campus, to the faculty and the experts who are on campus, GSA has so many opportunities to take our program to a new level,” said Nick Covault, executive director of GSA.

Then everything changed.

By spring 2020, the world was scrambling to find ways to maintain educational programming while keeping students safe as the COVID-19 pandemic stopped the world in its tracks.

For GSA that meant moving from their three-week intensive residential program to an online format of video conferencing platforms with UK remaining a close partner in developing opportunities and resources for the 2020 program.

Students engaged in a series of virtual daily seminars, creative projects, master classes and lectures from the safety of their own homes. GSA was able to still offer all nine disciplines — architecture and design, creative writing, dance, drama, film and photography, instrumental music, musical theater, visual art and vocal music — and scholars even received the mentorship of their own “residential advisor” and an “RA Group” that met virtually at the conclusion of each day, providing students an informal opportunity to develop friendships with other young artists from across the state.

A new normal saw GSA back on the UK campus in 2021 with several public health protocols in place including mask-wearing, social distancing, reduced room capacities and omission of public-facing performances. In-person seminars, master classes, lectures, mentoring opportunities and visiting artists all returned.

In its 35th anniversary year, GSA triumphantly emerged from those trials and tribulations to not only return with its stellar artistic programming, but it also doubled in size in 2022 thanks to supplemental funding from the Kentucky Department of Education.

“This was a transformational moment for GSA, but also for the entire state,” Covault explained to UKNow last year. “This increased investment not only means more of Kentucky’s creative youth will be empowered, validated and affirmed as artists, it also means the Commonwealth will benefit even more from the powerful skillset of our next generation of creative leaders: artist-citizens who bring innovation, connection, joy and healing to various sectors of our communities.”

And GSA 2023 is just around the corner. What will the two consecutive three-week sessions beginning June 11 hold for these young artists?

As it has each year before, GSA will offer new and different experiences for the selected student-artists, including guest speakers, innovative cross-education experiences and more. Established artists visiting GSA this year include American jazz pianist Harry Pickens, poet and UK Professor Frank X Walker (he will perform original poems to kick off Juneteenth), Kentucky Poet Laureate and author Silas House, along with vocalist/singer-songwriter Martha Redbone.

Program alumni will also take center stage at GSA with visits by several alumni to inspire current students, including opera singer Troy Cook, visual artist LaNia Roberts and musician Troy Anthony. Students in both sessions will also have the opportunity to attend a live theatrical production including the touring Aaron Sorkin play “To Kill a Mockingbird” at The Kentucky Center in Louisville and the iconic Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in Louisville’s Central Park.

Back on campus, The Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will also visit the student-artists to perform a new piece. Additionally, student-artists will be able to watch the exclusive final performance for the popular Louisville-based Bourbon Baroque musical ensemble.

While the sophomore and junior student-artists on campus concentrate on a single artform, they will also have numerous opportunities to explore other artforms. This exploration is conducted through a series of interdisciplinary workshops called SMORGS.

Each three-week session of GSA will culminate in a Final Day Festival open to the community. During the festival, final exhibitions and student performances occur throughout the day before a special graduation ceremony is held. Afterwards, the graduates of GSA join an alumni network of 7,500 strong, with many going on to receive college scholarships.

About GSA

GSA is a public/private partnership established 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 Performing Arts Foundation, Toyota Motor Manufacturing and more than 300 corporations, parents, educators, alumni and friends of GSA. 

About the University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts

The University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts, UK’s college host for GSA, offers Kentucky’s broadest collection of visual and performing arts academic programs with four academic units. The college also is 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 and expresses commitment to the arts through dedication to teaching, scholarly research, artistic experimentation, performance, outreach and exhibition. 

About Kentucky Performing Arts

Bringing world class performances to Kentucky, connecting artists with the community, and providing arts education opportunities, Kentucky Performing Arts lives its statewide mission of building 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 in Louisville make up the family of venues under the Kentucky Performing Arts umbrella:

  • The Kentucky Center at 501 W. Main St.
  • The Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway
  • Old Forester’s Paristown Hall, 724 Brent St.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.