The Arts Association of Oldham County’s annual fall arts show is moving from its usual location at the CityPlace Exhibition and Convention Center because of the center’s discriminatory policies.
Director of the fall arts show, Marion Gibson, said several artists contacted her earlier this summer to express their concerns about the show continuing to be housed at CityPlace given the center’s discriminatory policies for LGBTQ events.
CityPlace doesn’t allow gay weddings at the center.
“We just didn’t feel like we wanted to work with someone who excluded people when we try to be an inclusive event,” Gibson said.
Kent Epler was one of the artists who took a stance against the arts show being held at CityPlace for this year’s show. This year will be the second time Epler has participated in the fall arts show. In last year’s show, Epler won the award for Best in Show and was set to be the featured artist for this year.
Epler has been a fiber sculpture artist for the past 20 years and has won multiple art show awards. He currently lives in Louisville but was born in Montana, where he owns his own art gallery.
He said a fellow artist, who was also a previous Best in Show winner and a participant for many years, mentioned she wasn’t going to be doing the show due to CityPlace’s discriminatory practices.
“It was hard, imagine giving up free publicity from such a great organization,” Epler said of his decision to boycott the show. “But I agreed with my colleagues, discrimination in any form has no place in my life and certainly no place in the arts.”
Epler said he received support and encouragement for his decision from neighbors and friends, and his husband as well.
At first, he was unaware the Arts Association decided to move to a new venue, but once they did they welcomed him back as this year’s featured artist. He said he has “nothing but respect for the Arts Association of Oldham County.”
Joy Lait, a Louisville-based glass artist, also took a stand and refused to participate if the show was held at CityPlace. She will be participating this year following the move.
“There are certain things that I will not participate in,” Lait said. “Discrimination is ugly. The Oldham County Arts Association is an impressive organization, it stood up and did the right thing.”
Gibson said this year’s show is at the John W. Black Community Center in Buckner on Nov. 9 and 10.
She said the association took about a month and a half to find another venue, which proved difficult because not many places in Oldham County have the square footage needed for the show.
A tent will be added outside the center to accommodate for the space they’re losing from CityPlace.
She’s excited about the new setting for the arts show and the new opportunity to serve beer and wine, which was prohibited at CityPlace.
The fall arts show isn’t the only local even that’s moved out of CityPlace is protest of the venue’s discriminatory policy.
Canstruction, which started last year in Oldham County, is an event that collects canned food items to donate to local food banks. This year it will be at the Oldham County Family YMCA in Buckner on Nov. 15.
Nickolus Stephens, who oversees Canstruction in Oldham County, said it was solely his decision to move the event out of CityPlace.
“I’m in support of anyone’s right to happiness,” he said.
CityPlace not allowing gay weddings isn’t explicitly stated in CityPlace’s policies and procedures handbook, which is publicly available on its website.
There are several explicitly written conditions that aren’t permitted for people who rent the facilities at CityPlace: smoking, the serving and consumption of alcohol, drug use, profanity or indecent dress and no pets other than service animals.
Emails to CityPlace officials about the center’s policy and the departure of the two events went unanswered.
The Rawlings Foundation, a nonprofit organization, owns CityPlace. Incorporated in 2000 by the Rawlings family, the foundation seeks to “further the advancement of Christian education, values and teachings around the world, and support those in need in our local communities.”
The foundation largely receives financial support from The Rawlings Group, which is headquartered in La Grange. The foundation has an address in Florida.
CityPlace is not a publicly funded center, although some receive that impression given the Oldham Chamber & Economic Development is housed at the front of CityPlace.
Chamber President David Bizianes said while the chamber’s offices and resources are housed in CityPlace, the chamber was invited there as a guest at no cost and remains an autonomous entity. He said the chamber doesn’t set the policies of CityPlace and doesn’t use tax dollars to support any organizations.
As a privately owned business, CityPlace can set its own policies and procedures, including not allowing gay weddings and it’s not illegal either.
The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination by privately owned places of public accommodation on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin, but not sexual orientation.
And Kentucky doesn’t have any statewide anti-discrimination laws, although several cities around the state have passed ordinances, which prohibits LGBT discrimination in employment, hosing and public accommodations.
However, just because it’s not illegal doesn’t mean people don’t have qualms about it.
Earlier this year, Kentucky Equality Federation Secretary-General Jordan Palmer, in a press release, demanded CityPlace clearly state on their website that same-sex marriages aren’t permitted as well as the religious justification for it.
“By ‘religious justification’ I want to be clear, it is our opinion they may not claim religious freedom if they host weddings to people who are divorced and marrying again, except as outlined in Matthew 19:3-12,” Palmer said.