Telling Kentucky's Story

Virginia Carter receives Honorary Doctorate

Virginia Carter presented Honorary Doctorate of Humanities by President Eli Capilouto. Photo by Morris Grubbs.

Former Executive Director, Virginia Carter received an Honorary Doctorate of Humanities from the University of Kentucky on Friday, December 14, 2018 because of her more than 25 years of distinguished service in the humanities to the Commonwealth. 

Virginia Carter was a daring, creative, and innovative leader of Kentucky Humanities and made many memorable contributions to promoting the humanities throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Her most notable accomplishment was the development of Kentucky Humanities’ flagship program, Kentucky Chautauqua®. Virginia first conceived of Kentucky Chautauqua as a way to celebrate Kentucky’s bicentennial in 1992. She had a goal to bring at least two programs to each Kentucky county between Memorial Day and Labor Day of 1992. It was such a success that Virginia decided to try to establish the Kentucky Chautauqua program permanently. Under Virginia’s guidance, Kentucky Humanities has brought more than 70 different Chautauqua characters to life presenting more than 6,700 educational shows in communities throughout the state, reaching more than 500,000 Kentuckians.


Kentucky Chautauqua recognizes the love that we Kentuckians have for our state, its people, history and traditions. Actors portray famous Kentucky figures such as Henry Clay, Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Carson Breckinridge, William Wells Brown and others who bring our history alive to their audiences. In 2006, Virginia expanded the program to Kentucky schools, educating our children in an exciting and accurate way about the traditions we Kentuckians hold dear. Between four and five hundred programs are provided annually.


This does not by any means constitute the entirety of Virginia’s contribution to our collective well-being. She was also the driving force behind the very successful effort to celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s 200thbirthday with a presentation she authored, organized, and produced, "Our Lincoln.” This musical and dramatic extravaganza brought together 375 performers and a capacity crowd of 1,500 at the Singletary Center for the Arts at the University of Kentucky in 2008. This presentation was co-produced by UK’s Everett McCorvey and included Nick Clooney as the Master of Ceremonies. Presenting such a production was a first for Kentucky Humanities and the response was overwhelmingly positive, reminding us that the insights of the humanities can be delivered in many different ways and that we should be ready and willing to explore them all.


But that was not enough for the forward-thinking Virginia. On February, 2, 2009, Kentucky Humanities took nearly 400 Kentucky artists and technicians, many from the University of Kentucky, to present "Our Lincoln: Kentucky’s Gift to the Nation” at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of Kentuckians participated in this monumental effort – all at Virginia Carter’s direction. More than 1,200 attended this event, many traveling through an ice storm to return to Kentucky the following day. A DVD was produced of the performance that included UK Symphony Orchestra, soprano Angela Brown, tenor Gregory Turay, fiddler Mark O’Connor, and radio personality Bob Edwards.


Virginia’s contributions to Kentucky go far beyond her work with Kentucky Humanities. Many Kentucky communities and organizations have benefitted from her leadership and generosity. She was a member of the Leadership Kentucky Class of 2003, an active member of the Rotary Club of Lexington, a staunch supporter of the Governor’s Scholars Program, a former board member and long-time contributor of the Dr. Roy P. and Juanita Peterson Arts & Education Fund, and a former member of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.


Virgina served as the Executive Director of Kentucky Humanities from December 1989 through August 2013, having served previously as assistant director for two years. She holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Kentucky, an MA in art history and anthropology from the University of Kentucky and a BA in art from LSU. She taught art history at the University of Kentucky and the University of Northern Iowa, and anthropology at the University of Kentucky, where she was assistant to the director of the Museum of Anthropology and research associate with the Kentucky Anthropological Research Facility. Virginia has authored and co-authored monographs, articles, and reports in Pre-Columbian and Kentucky archaeology and art history, specializing in iconography and politics of public art. She also published on the social and cultural implications of the results of her research in physical anthropology.

Photo by Morris Grubbs.