Artists worked this week to apply the portraits of innovators to the back of 31 Innovation Alley. Pictured is the portrait of Amos Shinkle, by Jack Marion, digital drawing; and Dr. Alvin Poweleit, by Anthony Bachelier, digital drawing.
July 7 event a dedication and open house
COVINGTON, Ky. – Covington’s newest mural doubles (some would say triples) as an outdoor portrait gallery, a history lesson, and an explanation, organizers say, for why Covington’s “Innovation Alley” has its name.
On Thursday, July 7, all those themes will converge during an afternoon event that both dedicates the recently completed mural – officially “the NKY Innovator Gallery” – and serves as an open house for the support network that nurtures entrepreneurs and idea people in The Cov.
The Innovation Celebration event will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 at the NKU Collaborative for Economic Engagement at 112 W. Pike St. – the back of which opens onto the Alley itself.
Renaissance Covington Executive Director Nick Wade and his team launched the effort last September to identify some of the region’s earliest innovators as a way to call attention to Covington’s Innovation Alley, the official branded name of a “district” designated in 2016 via City ordinance as the clustered home of early-stage entrepreneurship.
“It was a fun project to work on,” Wade said. “Northern Kentucky has a vibrant history of innovation, both from an entrepreneurial and technical side but also from a cultural and social side as well.”
To help select the list of regional innovators who would become the models for the portraits, Wade turned to Dave Schroeder, executive director of the Kenton County Public Library for help. Schroeder did not disappoint.
In addition to selecting innovators from what might be considered the conventional spheres of innovation (technology, health care, and business), Schroeder’s list included pioneers in social justice, culture, music, and more. The list included names like suffragist Eugenia Farmer; Eula Bingham, a champion of worker safety and head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Jimmy Carter; B.F. Howard, co-founder of the National Black Elks organization; Civil rights leader Alice Shimfessel; and composer Haven Gillespie.
“We were really intentional about inclusion (and diversity),” said Wade.
Once there was consensus about the 13 innovators to be featured, Wade put out a call-for-artists that resulted in 13 local artists assigned to paint an innovator.
“The artist chose their preferred innovator at the time of submitting the application,” Wade said. “When we had multiple artists for the same innovator, the selection committee made their decision based on the artist’s style, the style of artwork already selected, and, most importantly, which piece we felt best represented the innovator.”
The finished product is a series of 13 portraits – originally created in various mediums such as digital drawing, ink, acrylic, oil, and mixed media – that are presented as a 36’ x 36’ laminate gallery mural decal displayed on the western elevation of 31 Innovation Alley. QR codes will link visitors to biographical information.
The City of Covington, ArtsWave, and Brent Cooper provided support to create the mural.
The event is the culmination of an effort to bring new energy to Innovation Alley, a block-long route that stretches east-west between Russell and Washington streets a half-block north of Pike Street. The buildings that run along the alley front along Pike and use those addresses. The location birthed small businesses like Grainwell, The Delish Dish, Craft & Vines, and Kickstart Kitchen and was or is home to Gravity Diagnostics and Bexion Pharmaceuticals.
“For the last year, we’ve been working to add vibrancy to Innovation Alley,” said Wade.
In addition to showcasing the new mural, the event will feature the artists who created the mural, as well as an opportunity to meet local entrepreneurs and celebrate the NKU Collaborative and its partners in the region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
For the NKU Collaborative, the Innovation Celebration is an opportunity to finally celebrate its physical space after two failed attempts to host an opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The center was launched in 2020 to help entrepreneurs grow their business, utilizing the university’s resources in data analytics, health, logistics, and entrepreneurial innovation, as well as regional agencies and programs to help businesses grow.
“When Nick approached us we thought, ‘that sounds perfect’ because that’s what we do is innovation – entrepreneurs with ideas,” said Meg Stephenson, Innovation Office Director for the NKU Collaborative. “So, we have ‘historical’ and ‘new’ to celebrate, plus it’s really nice to partner with another agency because it just feels right not to do our own thing at this point.”
Stephenson said the event will have entrepreneurs on hand who the Collaborative has assisted over the years and who will talk about their business and experiences with the agency. There’s no official program, she said, just an opportunity for guests to enjoy the mural, have an appetizer and a beverage, and learn what the Collaborative does and get to know its partners.
“I really want people to understand that the Collaborative is really a one-stop shop for anybody with a small business, or is thinking about starting a business,” said Stephenson. “We have programs that can walk people through their business ideas to see if it’s viable, or people that are struggling with a legal issue, or if they are at the point where they need more money or help with a website. It’s amazing to me that this service is free.”