The Carnegie: A work of art that houses art

More by....

This story originally appeared in the Dec. 23 edition of the weekly LINK Reader. To get these stories first, subscribe here.

Today, The Carnegie Visual Performing Arts Center in Covington is the only multidisciplinary performing arts centers in Northern Kentucky, but the historic building once faced demolition just 50 years ago. 

Simply known as The Carnegie today, the performing arts center’s website documents its history. It bears the name of many historic libraries and performing arts centers across the country thanks to its key founder, Andrew Carnegie. 

The Carnegie Galleries display artworks from local and regional artists. Photo provided | The Carnegie

Donations from Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of the Covington Public Library in 1904. A Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist, Carnegie was one of the richest people in American history. Widely known for establishing thousands of libraries and arts centers as famous as Carnegie Hall in New York City, he died in August 1919 at the age of 83. In the last 18 years of his life, he gave away 90% of his fortune – roughly $350 million, or the equivalent of $5.5 billion today. 

Carnegie financed the construction of over 2,500 libraries, including those belonging to public and university library systems, leaving his mark across the United States as well as Covington. 

Two years after the Covington Public Library premiered, it added a full-scale theater, which became an important gathering place for the city, serving as a town hall, hosting political events and theatrical performances in its young age, according to The Carnegie’s historical account. 

During World War II, the original copper roof on the library was removed and sold for scrap, leaving the theater exposed to the elements. Water damage resulted in the theater being condemned in 1958. 

Related:  Boone County approves plan to increase SD1 rates by $5 or less per month per household

The library was a groundbreaking facility on its own. At the time, it was one of the first facilities south of the Ohio River that was completely open to the public, which also made it one of the first racially integrated libraries. 

The National Register of Historic Places granted the library and the theater designation in 1971. 

A glass dome is an architectural centerpiece of The Carnegie in Covington. Photo provided | The Carnegie

Despite its historical designation, both the library and theater building were threatened with demolition in 1974, after the Covington library relocated to a larger space. In response, a group of Covington residents founded the Northern Kentucky Arts Council to save the building and turn The Carnegie into a nonprofit community arts center, ultimately saving the building and putting it on the path to become The Carnegie Northern Kentucky knows today. 

From 1999 to 2003, the State of Kentucky, the City of Covington and The Carnegie’s executive board partnered to create a connector between the galleries and the theater. This change led to  The Eva G. Farris Education Center, a classroom space, was added a year later. The Otto M. Budig Theatre premiered in March 2006.

Now, the multidisciplinary arts center stands at more than 17,000-square feet and is home to five art galleries, classes for young students, and theatrical performances for the public.

Covington’s Carnegie exterior bears architectural similarities to other Carnegie institutions, with grand entrances under archways and ornate embellishments crowning the top.

More articles

More by...

Latest articles

In Case You Missed It