The museum serves as a link between the downtown and another arts-related project that revitalized a formerly unattractive area of town: the LowerTown Arts District.
An innovative artist relocation program that was initiated at the beginning of the 21st century has attracted a variety of artists from around the country to settle in Paducah’s oldest residential neighborhood: LowerTown. Although the 26-block neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it had become rundown, with several vacant houses and related problems.
With often-low purchase prices, low-interest loans from Paducah Bank and other incentives, artists have moved there and rehabilitated the properties, a mix of Victorian, Queen Anne, Greek Revival, Italianate and other styles.
“There was a kind of energy you could feel,” said Bill Renzulli as we stood in his Gallery 5, with paintings of barns and landscapes lining the walls. “You could get a sense of something. It was infectious. People started to invest, it grew geometrically, and in four to five years we easily had 40 people.
“The stars were aligned,” said Renzulli, a former doctor who gave up his practice in Maryland and moved to LowerTown in 2002. “The neighborhood was totally transformed.”
Although the district has endured growing pains as it has matured and the recession dealt a blow to the vision of a large commercially viable arts district, there are still more than two-dozen artists representing painters, sculptors, bookbinders, leathercrafters, jewelrymakers and others.
“It is a very heterogeneous group,” said Renzulli.
In addition to shopping for quality artwork, groups can have private interactions with several of the artists in their studios and galleries.
I sat in on a presentation to a group of quilters from Australia by Caryl Bryer Fallert, one of the most influential quiltmakers in the world and dubbed a “rock star quilter” by Black, at her Bryerpatch Studio.
Fallert, who has won multiple best-of-show awards at the Quilt Festival, gave a fascinating discussion about how she creates her quilts, from initial idea to conceptual drawings to trial-and-error piecing of material to the final sewing.
Fallert, who also does hands-on workshops, was one of the artists who took part in presentations for a group from Sports Leisure Vacations who visited Paducah on a mystery tour in May. The group also got to try its hand at glazing with ceramics specialist Michael Terra and creating a work of art using a piece of Paducah history with Pinterest specialist Kijsa Houseman.
Similar programs can be arranged by the CVB for other groups.
Another historic venue for the local cultural scene is the 1905 Market House, located on the site that founder Clark designated as a public gathering place in the 1820s.
The building is home to the Yeiser Art Center, which displays work by regional and international artists, along with a permanent collection of 19th- and 20th-century American and European art; a museum of local history that includes the elaborate gingerbread woodwork of an 1876 drugstore; and the Market House Theatre, one of the largest community theaters in Kentucky, which anchors a vibrant performing-arts scene in Paducah.
“The theater does five main stage shows a year by adults and three others by youth,” said director Michael Cochran. “We are just wrapping up our 48th season.”
Although all the performers are local volunteers, the theater brings in professional directors for shows in the intimate theater, where no seat is more than 60 feet from the stage.
“We really treat it as a professional theater,” said Cochran.
The theater also conducts haunted tours and walking tours of downtown and will present murder mysteries for groups.
“We tell stories about specific locations, history you don’t get from history books,” said Cochran. “We take legend and historic facts and blend them and let people decide for themselves.”
Within sight of the Market House is Paducah’s newest cultural asset, the $43 million Luther F. Carson Four Rivers Center, an impressive contemporary, state-of-the-art, 1,800-seat performing-arts center that hosts touring Broadway shows, concerts, dance companies and national entertainers such as Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld. It is also home to the Paducah Symphony.