Kentucky philanthropist Brooke Smith hopes to achieve the Bilbao effect and use art to attract tourists to the former mining region. Making an abandoned mining area in the Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky, one of the world’s art centers is the daring mission of Somewhere Appalachia, a project led by Brook Smith, an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and contemporary art collector from Louisville.
After 25 years in the insurance industry, the Kentucky native sold his business in 2014. He specialized in providing insurance guarantees for such areas as coal mining, and witnessed the hard times here, associated with the decline of the industry in the Appalachians.
He specialized in providing insurance guarantees for such areas as coal mining, and witnessed the hard times here, associated with the decline of the industry in the Appalachians. The idea for Somewhere Appalachia came about when Smith saw a massive Cripplewood sculpture by Berlinde de Bruyckere in 2016 at Hauser & Wirth in New York.
The work, over 27 meters long, which was created for the Belgian pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale, depicts a tree uprooted and resembles a wounded body, bleeding and tied with rags of torn cloth. Cripplewood is about beauty, challenge, healing, and transformation – everything that I see in our region, says Brooke Smith.
To begin with, he had to persuade de Bruyckere to sell her largest and most outstanding work. The artist hoped that it would go to a museum. The patron invited her to Appalachia. There she met students, teachers, and artists, got acquainted with the collections of local ceramics and folk art. The artist came up with Smith’s idea of making Cripplewood the focal point around which gardens, sculpture parks, and other cultural spaces could be created. As a result, in 2018, the collector bought the sculpture for about € 1 million.
Now the artist dreams of installing this work, partly inspired by the image of St. Sebastian pierced by arrows, right on the side of a hill, inscribing it in a landscape that has been greatly changed by mining. Somewhere Appalachia encouraged students from the University of Kentucky Department of Architecture to send their plans. A pavilion to house the Cripplewood sculpture is needed, as well as an information center, exhibition spaces, a lecture hall, a hotel, and apartments for resident artists. The students were supposed to present their projects at the Venice Architecture Biennale this year. But it has been postponed until 2021.
Now with a small team including Penny Pivler, former director of the Fraser Historical Museum in Louisville, Smith is considering several potential sites. The philanthropist has calculated that over the next one and a half years, in addition to other sources of funding, he can personally invest in the project about $ 2 million necessary to open in late 2021 or early 2022.