The Center for Rural Development Dedicates Theatre in Honor of Cornelia Dozier Cooper


The Center for Rural Development proudly announces the dedication of its state-of-the-art 760-seat theatre in honor of arts philanthropist Cornelia Dozier Cooper of Somerset.

U.S. Congressman Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-05); Lonnie Lawson, President and CEO of The Center for Rural Development; and special guests officially dedicated the Cornelia Dozier Cooper Theatre at an intimate ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Dec. 1, prior to the prestigious Nutcracker Ball.

“Cornelia Dozier Cooper has collected many accolades over the years for her contributions to the arts, adding her own prestige to the highly respected Cooper name in the Lake Cumberland area. Cornelia’s passionate work has not only lifted local talented artists during their journey, but she has inspired adults and children alike to pursue their dreams and believe in their God-given talent,” said Congressman Hal Rogers, founder of The Center for Rural Development. “So, we wanted to do something here at The Center for Rural Development that would give lasting recognition to Cornelia’s legacy of love for the arts. I’m thrilled that The Center’s theater will now be known as the Cornelia Dozier Cooper Theater.”

The dedication of the theatre was the highlight of the Nutcracker Ball, an annual fundraising gala benefiting Lake Cumberland Performing Arts and grants for thriving artists.

"In naming the theatre after Cornelia Dozier Cooper, we pay tribute to a remarkable individual whose dedication to the arts has been nothing short of inspirational," Lawson said. "Having had the honor to know and work alongside Cornelia, I've witnessed first-hand her profound impact on fostering the arts in our region. Her legacy is not just in the programs she helped establish or the events she’s supported, but in the countless lives she touched through her lifetime commitment to the arts.”

Cornelia Dozier Cooper has been a pivotal figure in cultivating a rich cultural landscape in Kentucky. She served as President and a founding member of Lake Cumberland Performing Arts and was a featured artist for the University of Kentucky Art Museum's "Art in Bloom" annual fundraiser.

"I am deeply honored by The Center for Rural Development's decision to name their theatre after Cornelia Dozier Cooper. Cornelia's commitment to the arts, especially her pivotal role in the School Time Theatre program, has opened the doors of imagination and creativity for countless children in our region. Her dedication has been instrumental in exposing young minds to the wonders of the performing arts, fostering a lifelong appreciation for culture and creativity. The naming of the theatre in her honor is not just a tribute to her tireless work but a beacon that will continue to inspire educational and artistic pursuits for generations to come. We are profoundly grateful for Cornelia’s contributions and believe that her spirit will continue to resonate within the walls of the Cornelia Dozier Cooper Theatre,” said Cecelia Davis Carroll, President of Lake Cumberland Performing Arts.

Cooper’s accolades include the prestigious Master Musicians Festival Lifetime Achievement Award. Her support extends to the Lake Cumberland Children’s Theatre Series, Somerset’s Master Musicians Festival, and the visual and performing arts programs at Somerset Community College.

“Mrs. Cooper is not just a patron of the arts; she is the very foundation upon which our thriving artistic community has been built. Her visionary support and passionate advocacy have been the foundation for our cultural development. Her tireless efforts and unwavering commitment have created a legacy that transcends generations, inspiring countless children, and adults to engage with and appreciate the arts. As we celebrate her today, we are reminded that the vibrancy of our artistic landscape owes much to Mrs. Cooper’s foresight and generosity. She is more than a benefactor; she is a true cornerstone of the arts in our community,” said Lisa Blakley, President of the Cornelia Dozier Cooper Endowment Fund.

Mrs. Cooper was a member of the inaugural Kentucky Arts Council board following the agency's creation in 1965. Her illustrious career and dedication to the arts have earned her the state's esteemed Milner Award, placing her among other Kentucky luminaries, like former Governor Julian Carroll, author Harriet Simpson-Arnow, writer Jesse Stuart, and activist Wendell Berry.

Cornelia, the wife of the late Richard Cooper and sister-in-law of the late U.S. Senator John Sherman Cooper, has left an indelible mark on Kentucky's cultural and artistic heritage.

The Center for Rural Development is proud to honor her enduring legacy through the Cornelia Dozier Cooper Theatre, a beacon of arts and culture in the community.

Established in 1996 through the vision of U.S. Congressman Harold "Hal" Rogers, (KY-05), and other leaders, The Center for Rural Development is a nonprofit organization fueled by a mission to provide leadership that stimulates innovative and sustainable economic development solutions and a better way of life in Southern and Eastern Kentucky. In its 45-county primary service region, The Center provides innovative programs in leadership, public safety, technology, and arts and culture. The Center is committed to constantly expanding its capabilities in order to deliver a range of key services throughout Kentucky and the nation.

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