The Carnegie’s doors have been open to the Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati community for over three decades. We’ve changed names over the years, from the Northern Kentucky Arts Council, to The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center – recently shortened to The Carnegie – but our commitment to the arts remains unchanged. As the largest and only multidisciplinary arts venue in Northern Kentucky, The Carnegie connects people with enriching arts education, exceptional theatre and unique gallery exhibitions.
One of the most intriguing aspects of our history is the story of our iconic building. In 1904, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of a library, to be called The Covington Public Library. The library was unique for the time, in that the founding board chose to designate it open to all citizens – making it one of the first integrated libraries in the south. The library quickly became a cornerstone of the community, providing citizens with a rich literature collection. Two years later, a full-scale theatre was added, which served as a town hall for the community and played host to political speeches and theatre events of the time.
The library and theatre continued to thrive through the years leading up to World War II. During the war, the theatre’s original copper roof was removed and sold for scrap. Left exposed to the elements, the theatre suffered significant water damage. The theatre began a gradual decline and in 1958, without the funds to repair it, the library boarded up the theatre.
Both the library and the theatre were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. However, that designation alone was not enough to save both buildings from potential demolition in 1974, when the Covington library moved to a larger facility. 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 our building into a non-profit community arts center.
The theatre was used infrequently over the ensuing years because of its serious, even dangerous, disrepair. Over that time our name changed from The Northern Kentucky Arts Council to The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center and we continued to develop as a gallery for new and emerging regional artists. Arts education classes for children were introduced.
In 1999, the State of Kentucky, the City of Covington, The Carnegie board and many others, led The Carnegie to it’s biggest transformation. From this initiative, a connector addition was completed in 2003, linking the galleries with the theatre. That project sparked the creation in 2004 of a bright and beautiful new classroom space, the Eva G. Farris Education Center.
In 2005, The Carnegie’s signature stained glass interior dome was completely refurbished. The only piece remaining to complete our metamorphosis was the renovation of the theatre. Hundreds of gifts from large to small, as well as hard work from architects, builders and more restored what is now the Otto M. Budig Theatre at The Carnegie.
The Otto M. Budig Theatre celebrated its grand opening on March 24 – 26, 2006. Today, The Carnegie is an award-winning multi-disciplinary arts venue for all ages and provides events, educational programs and art exhibitions to the community. With five art galleries, a new education center and theatre, The Carnegie is one of the most prominent arts institutions in Northern Kentucky.
The building is an excellent example of the French Renaissance or Beaux-Arts style of architecture. Impediment sculptures by Covington artist J.C. Meyerberg depict Minerva, the goddess of wisdom and invention. She is accompanied by two youth, one representing the useful arts and the other the fine arts. The interior of the original library building is made up of two floors, connected by ornately carved dual winding staircases. A circular balcony and open rotunda overlook the main floor underneath an impressive amber glass dome. The adjoining theatre is modeled after a 19th-century French Opera House. It’s worth noting that the theatre is among the most acoustically perfect for one of its size.