A campaign to preserve a cultural and architectural gem

Today, it’s a center of the arts in Northern Kentucky. But The Carnegie almost didn’t make it to the present.

Built 117 years ago, funded by Andrew Carnegie, who used his fortune earned in steel, oil, and railroads to construct libraries around the country, The Carnegie was originally the home of the Covington Public Library. When the library moved in the early ‘70s, Andrew Carnegie’s building was on life support.

The theater, added in 1906, was in particularly poor condition. Having had its copper roof stripped and sold for scrap during World War II, it had suffered water damage, slowly deteriorated, and was boarded up.

It took a group of interested Covington citizens to save The Carnegie from the wrecking ball. They formed the Northern Kentucky Arts Council, and turned it into a non-profit community arts center.

They created the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center as a gallery for new and emerging regional artists and a center for arts education. A connector linking the galleries to the theater was later built, but it wasn’t until 2006 that the theater was renovated and open to the public, thanks to hundreds of donations.

The Carnegie is in the midst of a new capital campaign to continue the preservation of the architectural gem that today is a multidisciplinary arts venue, housing theater performances, educational programs, and art exhibitions.

The Carnegie just announced the public phase of the campaign, which was launched in September 2019. So far, with the support of foundations and individual donors, more than $2 million of the $3.5 million campaign goal was secured during the initial phase, the Center says. To jump start community support, The Carnegie has received a $50,000 pledge for a matching gift.

The campaign co-chairs are Otto M. Budig Jr. and Sara Vance Waddell, and honorary co-chairs are Bill and Sue Butler.

The Carnegie annually serves 80,000 community members, making the arts available to a wide audience and providing educational programming for children ages 6 to 13, most of whom live at or below the poverty level.

“The Carnegie’s commitment to its surrounding community, and the region as a whole, makes the arts accessible and introduces new ideas, concepts and experiences to educators, students, and families,” Waddell says.

To support the capital campaign, click here

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is the managing editor of NKY Thrives, an award-winning journalist, and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.