National Endowment For The Arts, Art Inc. Kentucky Support Young East End Artist’s Budding Career

Bolstered by National Endowment for the Arts funding, Ella Kirlew, a resident of Lexington’s East End community, was commissioned by Art Inc. Kentucky to produce a painting to hang in Community Ventures’ multi-use facility The MET. Operating under the auspices of Community Ventures, Art Inc. Kentucky is an incubator for artists that provides financial, technical and educational assistance to creatives seeking to turn their passion into profit.

When planning her artwork, the senior at Henry Clay high school knew she wanted her painting to pay homage to the children of the East End—both past and present. While her original sketch for her painting contained three children, Ella opted to pare the subjects down to just one for simplicity. The little boy—loosely resembling the artist’s five-year-old brother—is engrossed in a game of marbles.

“I wanted to honor the children of the East End. The children that were once here but are no longer here, and the children here right now,” said the young artist. “My mom does a lot of gardening. And when she gardens in our yard here in the East End, she finds these little marbles. She’s found at least 20 of them now.”

Kirlew is the bonus daughter of Frank X Walker—himself a visual artist and Kentucky’s first African American Poet Laureate. By the time the family moved to Art Inc. Kentucky’s innovative Artists’ Village in 2019, Kirlew was already well traveled having lived in three other states, the District of Columbia and abroad in Germany. The family has now put down roots just steps away from the ArtHouse Kentucky gallery at The MET, where artwork by both Ella and her step-dad can be found.

As a high school junior, the talented teenager was accepted to the Governor’s School for the Arts, which she attended in the summer of 2022. The three-week long experience held on the University of Kentucky campus offers the Commonwealth’s most gifted fledgling creatives the opportunity to make new friends and experience different artforms while working in mediums previously unfamiliar to them. For Ella—who primarily paints—GSA allowed her to experience both ceramics and printmaking, the latter of which she has embraced with gusto, adding it to her creative repertoire. As Kirlew considers the next chapter in her life, her mind is on college and selecting the best fit.

“I am majoring in art for sure, staying on the track of painting and printmaking, but I also want to get involved in political science and social equity and merge those topics into my art,” the soon-to-be-graduate thoughtfully explained.

Having applied to no less than 12 schools with letters of acceptance rolling in, Kirlew is weighing factors such as proximity to home, financial aid offered and the possibility of attending the same school as her twin sister–majoring in medicine–as they did apply to a few of the same institutions. Two of those were Howard University and Tufts University, to which they have both been accepted.

Kirlew smiled. “I have to admit, the thought of going to an Ivy League school is pretty cool. Especially with my sister.”

Ella’s home base of Lexington–and indeed the world–should expect some very introspective and thought provoking art as this young artist finds her path and continues to blossom.

To learn more about Art Inc. Kentucky, the Artists’ Village, Artists’ Studios and ArtHouse Gallery, visit or contact President Mark Johnson at 231-0054 ext. 1023 or