The telltale signs of the start of Kentucky’s fall season are tried and true. Pumpkin Spice Lattes abound in late August, held by eager fall lovers dressed in sweaters when it’s 95 degrees outside. Mums and pumpkins frame every storefront, and Halloween pop-up shops take up the spaces of defunct department stores weeks before the holiday.
But nothing says “fall in Louisville” quite like the St. James Court Art Show.
The first weekend in October is the first true sign of fall for me. Give me an apple cider donut, a warm coffee, a beautiful neighborhood full of Victorian architecture, and amazing artists, and that’s the start of the fall season — even when it’s sometimes 90°.
The St. James Court Art Show started in 1957 as a way for residents to afford to maintain repairs and upkeep of St. James Court. Malcolm Bird, a resident of St. James Court, was inspired by his travels to Paris, where he saw artists selling art strung on a clothesline. He wanted to do the same thing in the neighborhood to help with the upkeep of the St. James fountain — which was falling apart at the time — as well as the streets and the neighborhood overall. He made less than $200 that first year, but he continued the art show each year and, as they say, the rest is history.
As a current resident of Old Louisville (Limerick, to be more specific), I immediately identified with the sentiment behind the festival’s origin story. The West St Catherine Neighborhood Association, my local neighborhood group, has a number of involved residents — as do the 13 other associations in our neighborhood — who volunteer their time and talent to raise funds to make neighborhood improvements, lead beautification efforts, improve safety, and much more.
Lauren Hendricks, marketing maven and partner at a+h marketing, and the marketing agency of record for the art show, sat down with me to talk more about the show’s dedication to the neighborhood and the city of Louisville.
“Upkeep of the neighborhood costs between $200-300k a year,” Hendricks said. “The St. James Court Art Show contributes a huge majority of that. They also award about $50,000 annually to high school art students for scholarships to UofL’s Hite Art Institute. Schools and churches, on average, raise over $40,000 — and this is the biggest annual fundraiser for many of them.”
The art show gives back to the neighborhood in a major way, contributing to the upkeep of street lights, the St. James fountain, streets, sidewalks, schools, churches, artists, students, and much more.
“I feel like that story needs to be told,” Hendricks said.
One of the top 3 festivals in Louisville, the St. James Court Art Show brings in an average of 250,000 visitors each year, with at least 30% of those visitors coming from outside the state.
“The economic impact is huge from a tourism perspective. We encourage people, whether they’re tourists from out of town, or people who just don’t normally come to Old Louisville, to attend the art show,” Hendricks explained. “We did a study and found out that people spend about 4 hours on average at the art show. So much other entertainment is within a quick drive, walk, ride share, bus ride, etc. You can make a full weekend of exploring Louisville because you’re coming for the art show.”
Those attending the St. James Court Art Show experience a wide range of diverse art. There are 17 different artistic media ranging from ornate dolls, leather goods, watercolor paintings, woodworking, and much, much more. The organizers are also conscious of diversity of gender, race, and location.
“If you’re a Kentucky artist, we make it known that you’re a Kentucky artist,” said Hendricks. The show organizers also see it as an opportunity for attendees to experience and buy art from outside of Kentucky — there are participating artists from all over the country.
Diversity is guaranteed thanks, in part to, the show’s consortium, which includes residents that live where the art show takes place. These section leaders help put on the art show and organize the artists, ensuring a diverse crowd in terms of artistic media, gender, race, location, etc.
For example, St. James Court has a dedicated section for artists who are exhibiting at the art show for the first time. They can be seen right in the middle of the court, giving them an opportunity to be seen and talk to other artists that have been participating for decades in some cases. Other areas include Belgravia, Third Street, Magnolia, West End Baptist Church parking lot, and Fourth Street.
“It’s a huge neighborhood group effort,” said Hendricks.
That neighborhood effort adds so much to the ingenuity of the event. Each year, whether I’m attending the St. James Court Art Show, or volunteering at a booth with my neighbors, I am so excited to see so many others as enthusiastic about the neighborhood and what it has to offer as I am.
Each and every resident I’ve met in Old Louisville cares so much about the neighborhood, which is evidenced not only in the love that is shown toward neighbors, but toward the neighborhood, as well. Local events are planned by those who live here. The manual labor of seasonal clean-up is handled by those who live here. The flowers that are placed in pots at the end of any given block are placed those who live here.
That is what makes Old Louisville such a beautiful place to live. Not just the amazing architecture, or the beautiful streetscapes, or the amazing events that are held here year-round. It’s the beautiful people who inhabit it, adding to its warmth and charm.
Historic Old Louisville, just south of Central Park on St. James Court, Belgravia Court, Magnolia Avenue, Third, and Fourth Streets
Friday 10/4: 10a-6pm
Saturday 10/5: 10a-6pm
Sunday 10/6: 10a-5p
The West St Catherine Neighborhood Association is proud to partner with North Lime for the second year in a row to slang donuts and coffee at the St James Art Show this year. Come visit October 4th – 6th to check out our beautiful neighborhood and some amazing art — and grab a donut(or two) at our booth while you’re at it! Funds raised will go towards neighborhood improvements and beautification efforts.