Community Ventures and Art Inc. Kentucky Support Lexington Artist’s Entrepreneurial Dream
March 22, 2022

Art is where you find it, and for artist Kenneth Burney that is everywhere. When Burney was ready to turn his art into a business, Community Ventures was there to help make it happen. From writing a business plan with CV’s Business Development Specialist, to securing a Small Business Administration (SBA) microloan for art supplies, to renting space in the Artists’ Studios and being inducted into Kentucky Crafted with Art Inc.’s support, Ken Burney has worked with Community Ventures to realize his dream of being an artist and entrepreneur.

After studying graphic design in San Francisco, Burney made his way back home to Detroit where he worked with ad agencies on promotional projects like billboards, buses and tee shirts for local radio personalities.

“I got into tattooing when one of my neighbors saw some of my artwork. She would bug me every time she saw me about turning it into tattoos. I did some research, and it led me to Miya Bailey (a renowned African American tattoo artist) in Atlanta,“ Burney explained. By that time, Burney had moved his wife and kids to Lexington, Kentucky. When he returned from Atlanta, he rented space in an already established tattoo studio that was struggling to stay afloat. When the business owner decided to pack it in, Burney was ready to take the reins.

“I went to CV in order to write a business plan, and Phyllis Alcorn helped me with that. It was a class, and we met every week. It was a great program with lots of information. For most people there—especially me—it was very helpful. And at the end of the program I was eligible for a $1000.00 loan, which I used for more supplies.”

Burney hired another tattooist and renamed the business Studio Bee Inc., but following a divorce he ended up closing the shop and for a brief period of time found himself homeless.

“I realized that I had been slowly breaking down since 2016. But I got an apartment and both of my daughters stayed with me that Summer,” the artist remembers. “We all started painting—all three of us. It was my therapy. It brought me out of that dark place that I had been in for so long.”

It was Burney’s ex-wife that had introduced him to Mark Johnson, CV’s president of Art Inc. Kentucky, whom she had met through her work as a writer.

At that time, Burney was working as a bus driver for Fayette County schools. “We talked about the plans for Art Inc. Mark showed me the plans for the Artist’s Village and the Artist’s Studios and talked about membership in Art Inc., but it was just a concept. That was maybe four years ago, and I didn’t know if I could do it because I still needed a job to keep a roof over my head. But part of my bus route was through the East End, and I watched it all unfolding. And I was still painting every night.

“When Mark got back in touch with me, I decided to give it a try. As an African American artist it was important to me to be involved in the East End. It is important to me that it is very diverse down here. And the artists are diverse. As an African American, it was important to me to see this neighborhood being developed instead of staying undeveloped or gentrified. I wanted to be a part of that.”

Encouraged and mentored by Johnson, Burney was just recently inducted into the Commonwealth’s prestigious Kentucky Crafted program - operated by the Kentucky Arts Council - and, as a result, sold a number of his original paintings to the Kentucky Artisans Center in Berea.

Kenneth Burney is living the words of Pablo Picasso—Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.

To learn more about obtaining a small business loan, contact Community Ventures at (859) 231-0054 or email lew.whalen@cvky.org. To learn more about opportunities for Kentucky artists, contact Mark Johnson of Art Inc. Kentucky at mjohnson@artinckentucky.org.