Lexington’s vibrant, distinct culture is centuries the making. At the turn of the 19th century, our prosperous new town earned the reputation as the “Athens of the West,” a mecca for intellectuals, progressive thinkers and law makers.
But Lexington will ever be, The Loveliest and the Best; A Paradise thou’rt to me, Sweet Athens of the West.
From “Athens of the West” by poet Josiah Espy
It all started with the first institution of higher learning west of the Alleghenies, Transylvania University. Not long after, the University of Kentucky began its legacy as the state’s first land-grant university. As academic pursuits began to mix with the agrarian community, a unique culture emerged—one of passion, craftsmanship, creativity, pride and a deep sense of place.
From there, Lexington became a breeding ground for incredible writers, musicians, artists and makers of the well-crafted.
There’s something about this region of the world that has inspired writers to put pen to paper for centuries. Countless American writers and poets have written vividly of the beauty of the Bluegrass landscape, the vibrancy of its culture and the deep-seeded authenticity of its people. Josiah Espy, the 19th century poet who penned the “Athens of the West,” poem, wrote at length of Lexington’s rich epicenter and beautiful surroundings that stretched for miles.
Lexington has been a writer’s paradise since its beginning, and it continues to inspire the written word today. Beloved Kentucky writers Wendell Berry and Gurney Norman became friends as students at the University of Kentucky, later returning to teach. And Former Poet Laureate of Kentucky,
Frank X Walker, is a current professor at the university.
Lexington has more than thirty street murals painted by artists from all over the world. PRHBTN, an organization that celebrates underappreciated art forms, has been influential in bringing some of these great works of art to our city. Expect to find art ranging from anonymous carefree sketches to gigantic, commissioned murals while you stroll our streets. A can’t-miss:
the world’s largest Abraham Lincoln mural, created by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra.
We’re home to dozens of art galleries displaying works from local, regional and international artists. Celebrated painters like Andre Pater and Keeneland’s house artist Peter Williams have decades-long careers producing art, and there’s no shortage of modern pieces by contemporary artists like Natalie Baxter and Howard Finster. Experience gallery hops, exhibitions, special art events and more throughout the year. And pay a visit the UK Art Museum to view famous collections of American and European
This region’s relationship with music has been instrumental, so to speak, in shaping Lexington’s story. For one, we’re home to the oldest bluegrass music festival in the state, the Festival of the Bluegrass, which is held every June at the Kentucky Horse Park. Even jazz has an unexpected history in Lexington.
Popular Southern musician like Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers and Chris Stapleton also have ties to the area. And if live music is your thing, you can find it in town just about any day of the week, anywhere from restaurants and bars to popular music halls like Manchester Hall and the Burl.
Beyond music, Lexington is chock full of venues for all kinds of performances—opera, ballet, philharmonic orchestra, theatre, you name it. There’s certainly no shortage of talent in the performing arts in Lexington, so catch a show and see for yourself.
Today, Lexington’s culture continues to evolve. Neighborhoods old and new all offer a different taste of Lexington—whether it’s the NOLI Night Market or the Woodland Art Fair—enriching and shaping a truly one-of-a-kind community.
Through this, a unique breed of individual has emerged—the Lexingtonian. Friendly, welcoming, a little quirky, with an unhinged obsession with horses, bourbon, art and music. Lexington locals have a passion for their city and the vibrant culture that has emerged around it. We think you’ll like it here, too.