The Kentucky Center for the Arts opened in 1983. | Courtesy of the Kentucky Center

Most Louisvillians probably think of the Kentucky Center of the Performing Arts as just a venue space, albeit an important one for our community, but a building nonetheless meant to host events.

It certainly is that, but it also is so much more, and it takes a dedicated team of people to seamlessly keep the mission, the maintenance, the programming and all the individual parts moving at the same pace, setting an exceptional example for other organizations here and around the country and continuing to raise the bar for the arts in Louisville.

Since 2014, Kim Baker has been leading that team as the CEO and president of the Kentucky Center, and on Saturday, April 27, she’ll be recognized for her efforts at the Awards in the Arts held during Churchill Downs’ opening night. The awards are a joint effort between the Fund for the Arts, Churchill Downs and the Lawrence Family Foundation, they celebrate the best in our arts and culture scene by honoring passionate artists and organizations.

Kim Baker | Courtesy

Baker will receive the Brook & Pam Smith Arts Innovation Award, which recognizes those individuals who are helping fuel innovative work in the arts.

She tells Insider she was thrilled when she first heard she was selected for the award. She typically accepts awards on behalf of the work done by the Kentucky Center team, so it was different for her to be singled out.

“When I finally realized the award was recognizing my individual work, it was a bit of a surprise but a really joyous moment,” she says.

Baker stepped into the role of leading the Kentucky Center after many years in leadership positions at various theaters and performing arts venues, including the Singletary Center for the Arts, Iroquois Amphitheater and the Brown Theatre. Her passion has always been to make the arts more accessible to everyone — in every part of town.

Last June, the Kentucky Center suffered a serious roof fire that closed the building for nearly three months, but luckily, the 36-year-old Louisville treasure overcame the setback and didn’t experience too much internal damage, although the roof is still being repaired to this day.

(For a brief history of the Kentucky Center, check out this Insider article that ran last summer.)

Baker says the fire was one of her biggest challenges to date, but she doesn’t consider it a setback.

“There is no question it has been difficult, and we are still in the process of putting the pieces back together, but I believe the fire will ultimately move us forward in a significant way,” she explains. “We are taking it as an opportunity to make changes to the space that are part of a greater vision for the future.”

She adds that she was touched by everyone — from individuals to organizations — who showed their support. “I learned how much people love and value the Kentucky Center while being reminded that what happens here means a great deal to our community.”

Baker has a few significant events coming up in the near future for the Kentucky Center, including the sold-out run of “Hamilton” in June and the opening of the sister venue, Old Forester’s Paristown Hall.

“I am most excited to see, and more importantly hear, the wonderful live music that will be coming to Old Forester’s Paristown Hall,” says Baker. “The room is going to sound amazing. It will be a year of new audiences, artists and experiences.”

Before Baker gets ready for her big night at the Awards in the Arts, we asked her some very important questions …

So what if he wears his sunglasses at night?

What was your first concert?

A child of ’80s pop, my first concert (and don’t hold it against me) was Corey Hart. I think he was opening for Rick Springfield, but Corey was my crush, so he’s all I can really remember.

What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?

On the Kentucky Center! I love the Center and all of its programs, where it’s been and where it’s going.

What job would you be terrible at? 

Sportscaster. I would get everything wrong. I would call halftime “intermission”!

What is your favorite restaurant or bar? 

I love Sapporo at the sushi bar. My husband and I would live there before our kids were born, so it’s a bit sentimental for me as well.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once? 

Wait tables. It was also one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it taught me the most valuable lessons about people and working in a fast-paced environment.

Where would you direct a newcomer of Louisville to get a feel for the city? 

Take a First Friday Trolley Hop. You’ll get a taste for local restaurants, bars, galleries and local culture, and meet wonderful people who can tell you other places to explore!

Dozens of galleries, shops and restaurants participate in the Republic Bank First Friday Hop. | Courtesy of First Friday Hop

What keeps you here?

The people who are filled with a genuine and kind spirit. And the beauty that spring in Kentucky brings with it.

Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."