Everybody wants to belong
By Nathan Posner

Kathy Werking, an art educator and candidate for county magistrate, carries art supplies to be donated at a campaign event as she passes by a mural on the side of her building that houses Art on High, her art education company.

The list of titles Kathy Werking holds is long: college professor, art educator, non-profit manager, small business owner and operator, podcaster, farmer and more. Most people in Paris probably know her as the local art teacher and gallery owner. They may not know she holds a Ph.D. in communication and teaches college courses from her farm in rural Bourbon County.

“I've lived in a lot of small towns throughout my adult life, and I have become pretty protective (of my privacy)," Kathy says.

While most Bourbon County residents may not know about her academic credentials and her teaching, people in her adopted home county do know her. As she walks down Main Street she speaks with everyone who passes with the familiarity of a long-term friend, something she does even with strangers who wander into the art gallery she operates in partnership with the Hopewell Creative Arts Guild. Now that she has added another line to her resume – political candidate – she has had to give up some of her privacy.

The focus of her work these days largely centers around art education, particularly around expanding access to art for underserved youth communities. Besides hosting art classes for children, her non-profit On the Move Art Studio has focused on giving access to those in juvenile detention and schools that otherwise don’t have the funding for art education.

Over her two decades in Paris, she has become more and more involved in the community, including politics. Following the 2016 election she established a chapter of Indivisible and became involved in local Democratic campaigns. When the Bourbon County magistrate for District 2 covering Little Rock and Flat Rock was arrested earlier this year, leaving the position vacant ahead of off-year elections, Kathy decided to run for the office.

The idea of hosting campaign events just to be elected seemed alien to her, Kathy says. Any campaign event where the focus was solely on her was the antithesis of her work as a community servant. Her main two campaign events were a free sketch class and a candidate meet-and-greet where guests were asked to donate art supplies for low-income students and then organize the supplies and write a message to the children receiving them. For her, campaign events are “not just people just milling around. That's a waste of energy. So let's put together, you know, art stuff."

Over the years, Kathy says, she has grown to view Paris as not just a home, but a place where she has found “belonging.” She has focused on building up the town's small business community by creating the “Made in Paris” initiative where businesses have banded together to support and promote one another, and has served on the Paris tourism board, but something as public as elected office wasn’t her initial goal.

“I’m kind of a behind-the-scenes person. I've never felt very comfortable being out front," she says, but she has embraced her political side.

If elected, Kathy would be the only Democrat holding any elected office in Bourbon County and the only woman on the Fiscal Court. “I’m kind of proud of myself that I'm doing it because it's unusual for me, you know, to put my name out there. . . and it's me that they're deciding, up or down." But as a part of the community, the campaign seems like the obvious next step. “Once you settle in a spot, people know you,” she says.

Kathy leaves the Hopewell Creative Arts Gallery on Main Street as she gets ready to install a yard sign for a supporter.

In front of a supporter’s house, Kathy installs a campaign yard sign.

Cinderella Stewart, an employee of the Hopewell Creative Arts Gallery, talks with Kathy as they staff the front desk of the gallery.

Kathy writes a postcard to a voter, explaining her agenda if elected magistrate, as she watches over the art gallery.

As she looks inside “Arthur,” a mobile art van, Kathy smiles. She operates the art van through her non-profit On the Move Art Studio, which focuses on providing art education to under-served youth communities.

Mallory Gray and Olivia Hale listen as they create a multimedia art project in Kathy’s art class held on the back porch of her gallery.

Dee, one of Kathy’s four Al Khamsa Arabian horses, enjoys some petting after being fed.

Kathy rubs Dee’s back, causing dirt and dust to fly from her hair.

Minky, one of Kathy’s three cats, reacts to being scratched on the head as she stands with her owner on the steps of Kathy’s home.