October 20, 2016


Steve Siler is a song writer, and founder and director of Music for the Soul, a non-profit music ministry. He is writing this column on behalf of Downtown Frankfort, Inc., a Kentucky Main Street program.

A Local Treasure

Frankfort Entrepreneur Uses Art, Music, and Oral History to tell Kentucky’s Story.

Recently I experienced an enjoyable surprise when my friend Kim invited me to tag along to the Ward Oates amphitheater for a midday riverfront concert by Stir Fry Musette. Eclectic and entertaining, the band incorporates a variety of musical styles including Jazz, American, Eastern European, Latin, and Folk.  Front and center with the band was a charismatic, energetic and accomplished violinist.

This week, when I sat down for a cup of coffee with Joanna Hay at her Shelby Street office in one of the old Army barracks, I learned that being a skillful musician is just one among many of her distinctive talents.

Hay is a video producer and oral historian. She is a grant writer and creative team builder. She is involved in, among other things, community art projects and a pilot project to help women recovering from drug abuse.  She has received the designation of Community Scholar from the Kentucky Historical Society. In short, she is a local treasure.

She presents an easy-going confidence born of a variety of successes and experiences.  She also has a wonderful self-deprecating charm. 

In 1999 she started playing music as a Celtic duo with a neighbor named Greg Pond. When he told her she was a great musician she couldn’t even own that. I asked how long it took her to realize he was right.  “I don’t know,” she said with a quizzical smile. “People just kept asking me to play.”

Hay’s journey to Frankfort began in the unlikely locale of Devonshire in England. As a fifteen month old she came with her parents and two older brothers across the Atlantic when her father enrolled in a chaplaincy program in Richmond, Virginia. The plan was to return to England at the end of two years but instead the family wound up in Louisville where her father got a job as a chaplain.

It was there, at age twenty, that she met her husband Taylor Hay.  He had developed an exercise program called Synergetics.  It was in creating and marketing the video and her husband’s book for that program that Joanna cut her entrepreneurial teeth.  Her efforts were so successful that Simon and Schuster eventually signed the program. The couple wound up going all over the country promoting Synergetics.

Later, the Hays relocated to Frankfort to help Taylor’s parents with the family farm.  In 2000, Joanna found her interests shifting back to arts and culture, the areas that had interested her all throughout her school years in Louisville.

At one point she worked for a few years for the Kentucky Arts Council. Then suddenly her program budget was cut.  It was then that Hay decided to “do what it is I know how to do.”  We have all been the beneficiaries of that decision.

Doing what she knows how to do has resulted in Hay having three documentaries on KET including one on the history of The Kentucky Center for The Performing Arts and another on the history of Buffalo Trace Distillery.  It has resulted in four wonderful new videos extolling the merits of Kentucky State University. It has resulted in partnerships with other local artists and storytellers like Jennifer Zing and Doris Thurber to beautify and heal our community.

In partnership with DFI, Hay currently has a grant pending with the National Endowment for the Arts that would result in six pieces of public art being placed in strategic locations along the Kentucky River. Another partnership with the City, Tourism and Josephine Sculpture Park is underway to create a community-wide cultural plan.

And there is the word. Partnership. Yes, Hay has a commitment to excellence and a vision for energizing and emphasizing the arts and culture in Frankfort. But she understands the importance of collaboration in both the creative process and in community building.

“Working together we can make a plan.”

We can all eagerly look forward to see that plan take shape as Frankfort moves toward an exciting future.


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