From Vision to VISTA to Victory: The Making of Louisville’s Premier Grand Lyric Theater


In the latest episode of ‘Russell on the Move!’, we dive deep into the vibrant heart of West Louisville’s community efforts for empowerment and equity. Under the insightful guidance of our host, Kevin Fields, CEO of LCCC (Louisville Central Community Centers), the episode unfolds enriching discussions around pivotal community projects and celebrates a significant milestone for LCCC – its 75th anniversary. The episode beams with pride as it showcases the AmeriCorps VISTA program’s Russell Neighborhood Capacity Building Project, where guests Herbert Johnson, R. Shawn Summerville, and Dr. Brian Sajko, illustrate how a cross-section of expertise – from urban planning to theatrical arts – is contributing to meaningful community impact in West Louisville. Each guest brings a unique perspective, with a common goal of addressing poverty and inequality in a neighborhood ripe with cultural resonance and historical significance.

Envisioning Innovation in Community Theater:

A centerpiece of the discussion is a visionary community theater project helmed by LCCC, which recently received commitments necessary to bring it to fruition. The Grand Lyric Theater isn’t just an architectural marvel but a symbol of community aspiration that promises to be a hub for cultural exchange and artistic brilliance within the Russell neighborhood. The episode also underscores the power of collaboration, with special mentions of UPS World Port, the Greater Louisville Building and Contruction Trades Council, Youthbuild Louisville, the local corporate philantropy community, and neighborhood residents, who will all bring investments “time, talent and treasure” to complete the Grand Lyric Theater. As the guests discuss, the theater project is more than a venue; it’s a beacon for the arts, AI technology, education, and even fashion events.

Power of Community Working Together as Family:

Kevin Fields unfolds the significance of ‘family’ in the community context, drawing attention to the monumental support from Brown Foreman to black-led institutions like Simmons College of Kentucky, AMPED, The West End School, Louisville Urban League, and LCCC. This and other shining examples of community collaboration and empowerment showcase the possibilites of what can happen when community leaders come together to impact positive change.  A pivotal component of the episode was the substantive discussion around the ‘Complete Makeover Theater Edition’ project. Kevin Fields, Sr. recollected the early days and the subsequent growth of this ambitious project, which has evolved into a $3 million investment in the iconic Grand Lyric Theater. This state-of-the-art venue is anticipated to be a beacon of culture and the arts for the Russell neighborhood and beyond. With strategic collaborations, including significant efforts by R. Shawn Summerville and partnerships with corporations like UPS, the project is a testament to the power of community synergy.


Attracting Time, Talent and Treasure to Advance the Cause:

Through discussions on this podcast, various commitments of time, talent, and treasure to advance the construction of the Grand Lyric Theater were highlighted. Corporate and community philanthropy is seen as crucial to this cause, with particular emphasis on contributions from corporate entities like UPS and their team members, who offer a combination of skills, volunteer work, and possibly material resources. R. Shawn Summerville aims to mobilize talented individuals within UPS being engaged to aid in the theater project. Dr. Brian Sajko and Kevin Fields also discuss bringing community arts and trades organizations, like the carpenters union apprenticeship and Youth Build, to contribute their expertise and labor, indicating a need for skilled volunteers.

Discussion of past contributions from anonymous donors, the Fund for the Arts, the Norton Foundation, Metro United Way, and particularly the Gheens Foundation showcases a history of financial support of capital development and arts education for LCCC youth. LCCC is also engaged in a campaign to encourage smaller community-level donations, with specific calls for donations in increments related to the organization’s 75-year anniversary challenge. Collectively these discussions reflect an integrated approach to acquiring the necessary resources — bringing together community efforts and larger corporate support to elevate the Grand Lyric Theater project. Moreover, the podcast didn’t just dwell on commendable past achievements but actively advocated for ongoing support. Listeners were encouraged to partake in the 75-year challenge, supporting LCCC through donations or volunteering their time.

Mobilizing Local Building Trades and Youthbuild:

Special mentions of partners like Mike Fleitz and Celeste Williams (from the local trade union community), and Lynn Rippy from Youth Build emphasized the community’s cumulative effort in materializing the theater. VISTA CIA’s are engaged in a focused effort to mobilize local building trades, Youthbuild and other groups to bring essential construction skills and apprenticeship opportunities to fruition through the Grand Lyric Theater project. The goal is to create a state-of-the-art theater as part of the community center’s mission, leveraging the theater to provide a platform for cultural exposure, community events, and economic development in the Russell neighborhood. The Grand Lyric community theater project is seen as a vehicle to engage community members, including young people, in meaningful work that contributes to the revitalization of the area while also equipping them with valuable construction skills. The aspiration is to complete the theater in a way that honors the community’s heritage, involves local resources and talents, and becomes a destination that attracts attention and visitors, reinforcing the ‘we are family’ ethos in the community. There is a call to action for volunteers, material donations, and corporate partnerships to support the ambition of completing the theater by 2024.


As the episode drew to a close, the spotlight was on the future – R. Shawn Summerville conveyed the excitement of Louisville being named a top travel destination and the profound opportunities that arise with such recognition. The ‘Complete Makeover Theater Edition’ isn’t just a revamp of a building; it’s a painstakingly curated effort to revitalize a community.

In this episode, Dr. Brian Sajko shares his background in theater and retirement, highlighting his passion for making an impact through theater, which aligns with the community impact goals of AmeriCorps VISTA and R. Shawn Summerville talks about who his work at UPS is instrumental in advancing community impact at LCCC and within west Louisville. Host Kevin Fields, Sr. acknowledges the contributions of these guests and urges the community to engage with and support the collaborative efforts being discussed. The conversation revolves around using their expertise and passion to empower and uplift the community, with a call to action for listeners to become involved. These discussions encapsulate the advancement and empowerment efforts within West Louisville, exemplifying the mission of Louisville Central Community Centers. The episode is a true testament to what communities can do the achieve when they move together in harmony towards a shared vision. The commitment to leaving a lasting legacy of arts and empowerment in West Louisville echoes throughout the episode, inviting listeners to be part of this transformative journey

Click below to listen to the entire podcast: