Large-Scale Sculptures Transform this Frankfort, Kentucky, Landscape into a Unique Art Experience
by F. Douglass Schatz
Just a short drive from Nashville into central Kentucky lies Josephine Sculpture Park, a community-centric art park that encompasses sculpture, theatre, music, and other arts. Melanie VanHouten, likely the first person you will meet when visiting the park, is one of those people that instantly give off an air of contagious energy and friendly excitement. She is the park’s founder and artistic director since the park opened in 2009 and has used her impressive energy to make the park the successful art hub that it is.
VanHouten, who left a professorship of sculpture at the University of Minnesota to start the park, describes its mission to “provide community arts education and creative experiences while preserving the beauty of Kentucky’s native rural landscape.” The setting of the park is twenty-six acres of former farmland just outside of Frankfort that is used to display thirty-five artworks, including large-scale sculptures, murals, and other projects. Visitors are invited to walk through mowed paths or find their way through the fields to facilities such as the amphitheater or the artist-in-residence barn. The park offers a free venue for performing arts, arts education, art appreciation, and cultural enhancement.
Sculptures in the park are generally on loan (as opposed to a permanent collection) in order to achieve maximum exposure of the arts in the community. In addition to more traditional outdoor sculptures that adorn the landscape, artists are often invited to make site-specific or non-permanent artworks for the park. One example was a performance/installation by David Lobdell from New Mexico that burned binary code into the grass. Projects such as this make for a more experiential endeavor rather than a typical outdoor museum experience.
What is striking about the park is its lack of a corporate ‘feel’. There is really a grass-roots-type feeling at Josephine that is unique in this age of public arts venues that are proliferating around the country. It is definitely a place where one can go to see sculpture but, more important, a place where one could go to be with sculpture or even participate in the practice of art. This important difference makes the park stand out clearly among its contemporaries across the country.
Preserving the Kentucky heritage is important at Josephine as evidenced by the natural paths and landscaping that keep the look and feel of the former farmland. VanHouten’s grandparents grew up on the farm (the park is named after her grandmother), and it keeps the beautiful rolling fields of central Kentucky intact. Of the park’s mission, VanHouten says, “It is important for the artwork and the land to fully co-exist aesthetically and naturally.”
The heart of the park is with the community that inhabits the region. It is not unusual to see civic groups, at-risk youth, conservationists, andcultural groups using the park at any one time. During the summer, the park hosts a theatre production called Shakespeare SummerStage, where actors use a commissioned sculpture as the set for a play. Also each year, the park hosts a Fall Arts Festival (September 13 this year) where the community is invited to participate in many artistic events, including a hot-metal pour, live music, community sculpture building, and other activities. This hands-on experience for the public is very unusual in art parks, but after talking to the director, it is clear that this type of experience is exactly what Josephine Sculpture Park was built for. In all, it is a vibrant place that is well worth the trip. Just keep in mind that although the park is a destination, it is also about the journey.
Josephine Sculpture Park is located approximately three hours from Nashville in Frankfort, Kentucky. The museum is open daily 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Plan your trip to the September 13 Fall Arts Festival. For more information, visit www.josephinesculpturepark.org.