Making a Difference:
Kentucky Productions

If KET doesn’t tell these stories, they aren’t going to be told.

Nick Nicholson

Keeneland President and CEO

When you stand among the tall oaks and blazing maples on an autumn afternoon at Keeneland Race Course, the sky is so achingly blue, the air so crisp it almost hurts to breathe—and the scenery is so breathtaking that it just seems too wonderful to be true.

Scenes of beauty such as those at Keeneland are found throughout Kentucky, yet like many iconic Kentucky locales—Mammoth Cave, Shaker Village, and Lilley Cornett Woods come to mind—they’re firmly unique. The whinny of a mare being led to Keeneland’s sales pavilion seals the scene at the race course, just as the thump of the loom in the student-run traditional craft program at Berea adds unique texture to that one-of-a-kind institution.

What unites these and so many other people, places, and traditions are their inextricable roots in Kentucky. It’s the stories of Kentucky’s culture and heritage that KET—along with generous donors—has pledged to continue, thanks to the recently funded Endowment for Kentucky Productions. Its $2.5 million will provide KET secure funding for generations to tell Kentucky’s stories.

“We became committed to the endowment, we were sold, when we first heard the concept,” said Nick Nicholson, Keeneland’s president and CEO. “The reality is, if KET doesn’t tell these stories, they aren’t going to be told.”

Keeneland was the setting for the celebration of the endowment’s completed funding in October 2007, when PBS President Paula Kerger arrived in the Commonwealth to drink in the autumn beauty and applaud the news of the endowment, which has been three years in the making. Fitting, too, was the announcement that the first documentary to be funded by the endowment will be titled Thoroughbred; its producer is Academy Award-winning director Paul Wagner.

“As the inaugural project, I hope that Thoroughbred will set a high standard for subsequent programs supported by the endowment,” said Wagner, a native Kentuckian. “This is as it should be, because the people of Kentucky deserve to see their lives, their history and traditions, their dreams and aspirations reflected back to them in television programs of the highest quality.”

The KET Endowment for Kentucky Productions will ensure that KET is able to continue to create local programming, explains Shae Hopkins, KET’s deputy executive director for programming and production.

“The endowment provides a steady, predictable source of revenue that won’t be affected by fluctuations in our budget from year to year,” she notes. “Because of the endowment, Kentuckians can expect more of the high-quality local programs we’ve always produced.”

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Indeed, it was such bold and forward thinking which attracted Keeneland to the endowment.

“Seldom do innovative ideas come forth with a great sense of timing,” said Nicholson, who presides over Keeneland’s annual charitable contributions. “Ideas come either before or after their time. We felt that here was an idea—coming at a time when high-definition [television] was emerging—that it would be tragic if the opportunity were lost.”

An HD production, Thoroughbred is slated for completion in 2010, when Kentucky hosts the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and the eyes of the international horse community are on the Commonwealth. Kentucky-based Alltech is another of the endowment’s funders.

“We Kentuckians well know the cultural importance and economic power of the thoroughbred horse industry,” notes Wagner. “We also appreciate the beauty of the animals and the passion we feel for them. But this is a story not widely understood, and therefore it makes an excellent choice for presentation to an international audience.”

Like the other stories which the endowment will ensure are preserved, Thoroughbred will tell the story of Kentuckians for today and for the future.

“First of all, it is a great story, and it’ll be a wonderful project. It is at the heart and soul of what Kentucky is all about. But 10 years from now, it won’t be the only great story that comes out of this [endowment],” said Nicholson.

“We thought, ‘This needs to be done.’ These are stories that need to be told—told not only for Kentuckians now but also for future generations.”