Kentucky Theatre gets new management

Mayor Linda Gorton today recommended that the management contract for the Kentucky Theatre be awarded to the Friends of the Kentucky Theatre.

“The Friends have some exciting new plans for the theatre, and they are also keeping the fan favorites in place,” Gorton said. “It’s a new era for Main Street’s grand old lady, as she prepares to start a year that will mark her second Century.” The theatre opened in October 1922.

Friends Board members said they are humbled and excited about taking on the management of the historic Kentucky Theatre.

“We’re thrilled about the opportunity to manage this beautiful and beloved theater in the heart of Lexington,” said Lisa Meek, Friends co-chair. “The task ahead is a big one, and it’s made more complicated by the recent surge in COVID cases. We don’t have a precise reopening date, but we are committed to opening the Kentucky as soon as it is safe and practical to do so.”

Councilmember Hannah LeGris said, “This new partnership between longtime advocates of the theatre and the City will once again open the doors of this beautiful and historically important building to the public for films, concerts, gallery openings, and private events. Along with its companion theater, the State, the Kentucky is an institution in the arts community not only in downtown Lexington, but throughout the Commonwealth. Over the last 99 years, the Theatre has hosted world premieres, celebrity performances, LGBTQ+ events, and countless live shows. I look forward to this new chapter in the story of the Kentucky Theatre and wish them another 100 years of success as Lexington's premier historic theater.”

Council is expected to take an initial vote on the management contract on Thursday. The awarding of the contract is contingent on Council approval.

For the last four years, the Friends have studied the best practices at art-house cinemas around the country. The Friends visited some of the best of these cinemas and consulted with art-house cinema directors and industry consultants with the goal of ensuring that the Kentucky continues to thrive as a center for film excellence.

Meek said the Friends “intend to continue the best traditions of the Kentucky Theatre while introducing new programs and initiatives that will make the Kentucky an even more dynamic and vital venue as it enters its second century.”

Friends co-chair Hayward Wilkirson said, “Fred Mills – a.k.a Mr. Kentucky – will continue to serve as the theater’s general manager,” and that “much-loved programs like the Summer Classics movie series, the Rosa Goddard Film Festival, and midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show will continue as staples of the Kentucky Theatre.”

Some of the new initiatives include switching to a non-profit management structure, implementing a membership program, increasing repertory film programming, introducing more film festivals, and reviving musical programming.

The vast majority of art-houses nationwide are non-profit organizations. Nonprofit status is essential for fundraising efforts since donations to a nonprofit are tax exempt. Membership programs are also a common feature at art-houses across the U.S. and offer members perks like discounted movie tickets and concessions and member-only events in return for a monthly fee.

About the Friends of the Kentucky

Vice Mayor Isabel Yates formed the Friends of the Kentucky Theatre in 2012 as a nonprofit organization to restore, preserve, and enhance Lexington’s only historic, independent cinema. Since our founding, we have raised nearly $1 million to pay for essential improvements at The Kentucky, including digital projectors, modern sound systems, new seating and carpeting, rewiring, and marquee repairs. Without the work of the Friends, the Kentucky Theatre would not exist today.