Kara Nichols grew up in Louisville’s East End, oblivious to what she would later see as a remarkably segregated city. After living in New York, Chicago, and elsewhere, she came home with a determination to create something that would help diversify her hometown.
In April 2016, she opened the 1619 Flux: Art + Activism gallery on West Main Street, purposefully seeking out a home for her nonprofit that was firmly in West Louisville.
“When I came back, I felt very uncomfortable because of the segregation on different levels – race, demographics, socio-economics,” says Nichols, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Louisville and practiced psychology for 12 years in Chicago. “I want to find sustainable ways to get people together.”
1619 Flux has hosted several popular art exhibits, often showcasing a fresh or unexpected group or culture. In August, the gallery premiered “Meet Your Neighbors: Feminine & LGBTQ+ Perspectives.” The exhibit included works by a number of artists.
Nichols has also created programming that included a series of conversations designed to bring people together from across the city. Last fall, she offered an exhibition by Vian Sora, an Iraqi-born painter who escaped her war-torn homeland and moved to Louisville.
In 2017, with the idea of uniting diverse people to take action, Nichols produced a series of evenings she called “Connecting Conversations,” in which she invited artists, architects, muralists, and other people she calls “connectors” to speak and discuss a variety of issues.
“We are witnessing these neighborhoods in flux and asking how we solve social problems creatively,” she says. “Bringing all these people together, I feel like I’m creating a piece of art right now. All the people involved, all the people I meet – it’s about being a part of this community and stepping up.”
Nichols has reached out to people who live near the gallery, which was formerly an empty warehouse, and has exhibited work by a formerly homeless man, who ultimately sold four pieces. Another artist, a former convict, walked in off the street and has exhibited his work at 1619 Flux.
1619 Flux continues to evolve, and Nichols says she wants to help unify all the neighborhoods in West Louisville. The gallery’s mission is much more than that of a typical art gallery – it strives “to unify diverse people through creative expression as a catalyst for social activism and change.”
Nichols is joined in her efforts at 1619 Flux by artistic director Jesse Levesque, community outreach director Gwendolyn Kelly, and marketing and operations director Josh Ison.