When you enter the Jewish Community Center, the first thing you see when you look to the left is the Patio Gallery. This gallery has plenty of room to move around, comfortable, oversize chairs and good lighting.
Best of all, the gallery walls, and sometimes its floor space, are filled with marvelous creations – paintings, drawings, photos, sculptures and more, sometimes using traditional mediums and sometimes using things you’d never expect to find in a work of art.
If the current exhibition doesn’t speak to you, come back again and within six weeks, you’ll find something new that will appeal. It’s almost like magic.
But it isn’t really magic. A lot of work and careful planning goes into ensuring that the gallery offers a wide variety of curated exhibitions that are arranged in the most respectful way and that challenge you to think. Just ask Bette Levy who has served as the Patio Gallery director and chair of the JCC’s Visual Arts Committee or a volunteer for 15 years.
Asked about the highlights of her years with the Patio Gallery, Levy said, “We’ve presented a number of exhibitions that dealt with social issues.”
One that stood out for her showed various ways people experience the sacred in their homes. “We had people from all different religions, cultures, and spiritual pursuits bring in ritual objects that were of significance to them,” she explained. “It was a pretty powerful show” that included items from Native American, African American, and Baha’i cultures as well as those from more traditional religions.
Other exhibitions that stood out for Levy included “one on addictions, one by people behind bars who were creating art, and one by artists living with HIV/AIDS. I think those were pretty potent and educational shows.”
Many of the shows feature local and regional artists, but Levy also brings in artists from out of state. She drew attention to two exhibitions coming in the next two years. In 2017, “Naftali Hilger, who is an Israeli photographer who has done a study on Jews from Yemen” will be featured. In addition, Wendy Weiss, who went to India on a Fulbright Scholarship to study weaving, will have a display of the Indian weaving technique known as ikat.
“One of the things I tried to do during my tenure over the years is present a variety of exhibitions in a diversity of mediums,” she said, “partially to give opportunities to different artists and partially to educate the community about what art is. I’ve developed a consistent pattern of presenting group, individual and rotating organizational exhibitions
“We have an annual Mazin Show,” she added, “which presents yet another forum, and in that particular regard, we are trying to expand the reach of that program so that it includes not just local artists, but also regional artists within a 200 mile radius of Louisville.
The Mazin Show was created by Bernice and Benjamin Mazin 10 years ago. It is a juried show that draws well over 100 entries each year, offers monetary awards, and is currently on display in the Patio Gallery. (See story, page 19.)
Running the Patio Gallery is not a solo endeavor Today, Levy works closely with Senior Adult Programming and Cultural Arts Director Slava Nelson. “Working with Slava is fabulous,” Levy said. “One of the first things that she ever said to me was if you need something done, just let me know and it will be done. She has remained true to her word. We trust one another implicitly and she makes my work easy.”
She also had kind words for Marsha Bornstein and John Leffert, who worked with her before Nelson. “The Center has been very receptive to the shows that I’ve put on and the things I want to achieve with the gallery, and I’m grateful for that. It’s been a win-win situation.” Levy is originally from New York, and she lived in San Francisco before coming to Louisville to get her masters degree in art therapy. She also had a long career in fund development and event production.
“Late in life,” Levy said, “I married my wonderful husband, Dr. Robert Acland , and after our marriage, I went back to school to get a second masters degree in textile arts.”
“When I married Robert,” she added, “he said to me, you want to make art? Quit your day job and go ahead and make art. This enabled me to get on to create my own art and enabled me to oversee the Patio Gallery. His declaration of support freed me up to do the things I wanted to do, and I’m eternally grateful to him for that.”
Levy is one of about eight founding members of Louisville Area Fiber and Textile Artists (LAFTA). “There were a number of textile artists who were busily working in their studios by themselves without the opportunity to interact with like-minded people,” she explained. “A group of us got together to talk about banding together and forming an organization where people could be with kindred spirits, have critiques, have opportunities to exhibit and also to educate the community.”
She is a member of PYRO, a successful cooperative gallery that gives its members a place to exhibit and sell their artwork.
Levy has participated in numerous exhibitions and conducted personal research into textiles through world-wide travel. Beside LAFTA, she is a past member of Fiber Forum (an arm of the Embroiderers’ Guild of America), a past vice president, board member, and Kentucky state representative for the Surface Design Association, and a member of numerous other textile, arts and community organizations. She has also written articles for Surface Design Journal, Arts Across Kentucky, and other professional journals.