Vault1031: Giving Louisville a New Place to Play
Louisville's local theatre scene is an ongoing drama of resource balancing. Dozens of companies constantly creating means there are frequently more shows than actors to cast in them. Even less plentiful are adequate performance venues and, especially, rehearsal spaces. For companies without their own theaters, rehearsals are relegated to church basements, nursing home common areas and private living rooms.
Between them, having known Louisville as an artistic home since the 1970s, Jon Huffman and Barbara Cullen have seen their share of industriously realized practice spaces. They've each spent a lifetime acting, directing, dancing, singing, educating, and working on stage and screen. They've been around the country's arts landscape and back. They've done just about everything
But when the landlord of the Old Armored Car Vault at 1031 South Sixth Street in the Limerick neighborhood approached them about developing the building, less than 100 yards from their home, into a performance space?
They realized that was something they hadn't done.
"We had no intention of creating a space," says Huffman, co-artistic director with Cullen of The Armored Car Theatre Company headquartered at the now-open and highly active Vault1031. "Nancy Cogan came to us and said 'Can you see turning this building into a performance space?' And we thought 'Wow, this could be a great thing.' It was the perfect thing to happen to us."
Huffman and Cullen set to work developing a space to serve the needs of an arts community vastly different than the one they knew decades ago.
"In our twenties and thirties, there was nothing here," Huffman said. "That's why you had to leave to do anything. Now there is so much great art happening. It's exciting to see what's going on here and be a part of nurturing it."
Huffman and Cullen knew they wanted to create the rehearsal space first. They began a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 for renovations to the building's front room, previously an apartment and dog food storage facility for the Arrow Fund, a medical treatment organization for abused animals.
Having never worked the fundraising side of theatre, they found out it was a "full time job," as Huffman puts it. "If you want to make your goal? You have to work it."
Other lessons learned?
"We learned that people like to be thanked," he says. "We thanked everyone as publicly as we could. Being extremely public and thoughtful with gratitude was a good lesson for us. We tried to be real diligent about that."
An in-person fundraiser helped put them over the top in the Kickstarter campaign, securing the funds to start the makeover.
"We were new to this. You learn as you go," Huffman says. "But we're learning there are a lot of people in the region who want to support the arts. So many people have shown up to help. It's incredibly gratifying."
Theatre companies and other arts groups quickly began booking the space. Companies such as Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble, Theatre  and Louisville Repertory Company have used it for rehearsals, and local arts instructors including Cullen, Tim Kelty and Amy Attaway have used Vault1031 for theatre and dance instruction. The monthly New Play Slam enables local playwrights to hear excerpts of their work read aloud and receive feedback from their artistic peers.
Vault1031 expands the artistic cultural presence in the Old Louisville section of the city, an area removed from the cluster of arts venues, galleries, and other hotspots downtown. Aside from Kentucky Shakespeare's summer season in nearby Central Park, the area has lacked a consistent performing arts presence. Huffman attributes this to a misconceptions about the area.
"There has been this perception, even since the seventies, that Old Louisville is a hotbed of crime," Huffman says. "I've been looking and I haven't found it. People come and see us and say 'Oh, this is fine.' But there's always a learning curve when people go someplace new."
Huffman met with the neighborhood's city councilman to make clear the need for safety in the area. The city responded with promises to increase outdoor lighting and repair sidewalks. Free on-street parking is abundant, in contrast to most downtown venues. Huffman sees an artistic hub as a crucial element of the neighborhood's vitality. "This area has been empty for years," he says. "Old Louisville is not used to having arts groups reach out to them."
Huffman, Cullen and Cogan have already planned out the remaining elements that will turn Vault1031 into a fully functioning self-contained arts venue. The largest room in the facility, currently a shadowy cinderblock cube just behind the rehearsal studio, will become a state-of-the-art 130-seat performance space. The gated vaults, formerly locked cages that were temporary homes for currency, will be converted to props storage areas, a green room and dressing rooms with shower facilities. A fundraiser for the next phase is planned for early 2014.