The Kentucky Arts Council, supports the Carnegie with state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the arts.
We’ve had a few different names over the years … But whether you’ve known as the Northern Kentucky Arts Council or The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center, our commitment to the arts and the community remains unchanged. As Northern Kentucky’s largest – and only – multidisciplinary arts venue, The Carnegie is dedicated to its mission: Connecting people through enriching arts education, exceptional theatre and unique gallery exhibitions.
American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was a supporter of the arts, leading to the development of the Carnegie libraries across the country. In 1904, he funded the construction of The Covington Public Library – and that’s where the story of The Carnegie begins.
The library was unique for its time in the aspect its founding board chose to designate as open to all citizens, making it one of the first libraries south of the Ohio River to be a fully integrated facility. The library soon became a community cornerstone, providing locals with a rich literature collection with a full-scale theatre to follow two years later. The theatre would become an important gathering place for the city, serving as a town hall in addition to hosting several political and theatrical events among others.
World War II would bring a significant change to The Carnegie as its original copper roof was removed and sold for scrap to assist in the ongoing military effort overseas. Unfortunately, this left the theatre exposed to the elements, resulting in significant water damage and the start of a gradual decline. Without funds to repair it, the library boarded up the theatre in 1958.
The 1970s would see the next significant developments in The Carnegie’s history, beginning with the designation of both the library and the theatre on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. That wasn’t enough, however, to save both buildings from facing potential demolition in 1974 once the Covington library relocated to a larger facility. Fortunately, a group of Covington residents would save the building from the wrecking ball, founding the Northern Kentucky Arts Council and turning The Carnegie into a non-profit community arts center.
While the theatre was used infrequently while in a state of disrepair, the Northern Kentucky Arts Council would evolve into The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center. Along with that evolution came its continued development as a gallery for new and emerging regional artists and an educational center with the introduction of art classes for children.
The next significant phase of The Carnegie’s life would come right before the start of the new millennium. In 1999, the State of Kentucky, the City of Covington, The Carnegie board and many others partnered for an initiative that would eventually result in the addition of a connector. Completed in 2003, the connector linked the galleries with the theatre. That sparked the creation of a bright and beautiful new classroom space, the Eva G. Farris Education Center, the following year. The Otto M. Budig Theatre would celebrate its grand opening the weekend of March 24-26, 2006.
Today, The Carnegie is an award-winning multidisciplinary arts venue featuring performances, installations and events for people of all ages. With five art galleries, an education center and theatre, The Carnegie continues to function as one of the most prominent arts institutions in Northern Kentucky for creators and the community alike.
A testament to French Renaissance and/or the Beaux-Arts style of architecture, The Carnegie is a work of art in and of itself. Impediment sculptures by Covington’s own J.C. Meyerberg depict Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and invention, accompanied by two youths, one representing the useful arts and the other fine arts.
Inside the original library building, two floors are connected by ornately carved dual winding staircases. A circular balcony and open rotunda overlook the main floor underneath an impressive amber glass dome. Complementing the space is an adjoining theatre, modeled after a 19th-century French Opera House and containing acoustics that makes it among the most perfect sound for one of its size.
Serving the community is our mission and one that wouldn’t be possible without the generous support of several individuals, private foundations and organizations within our region. We also graciously receive operating support from ArtsWave, the Kentucky Arts Council, The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Kenton County Fiscal Courts. Membership dues and ticket sales round out the remainder of our fiscal support.