Man With a Mission: Charles Adams' Studio Project
“It was the ‘more’ that got me,” Adams smiles. “We started thinking about more.”
Charles Adams is quick to give credit where credit is due. “I want to emphasize,” he begins, “that we could not be doing what we’re doing were it not for the vision of Louise Hopkins Underwood.” He’s talking about the Charles Adams Studio Project, or CASP, a grouping of sleek minimalist structures to the east, north, and south of the art center bearing Underwood’s name. Adams and I are seated in his art gallery, along with CASP Project Manager Chad Plunket. Encircling us are artworks by Peter Hurd, Luis Jimenez, John Chinn, James Watkins, Tina Fuentes, Jeff Wheeler, and many other Lubbock artists. It’s a Wednesday afternoon, just two days before Adams will be honored at the Lubbock Arts Festival for his work with CASP. A great man with a commanding presence, Adams is relaxed in a loose linen shirt, khakis, and Toms, his grey hair slightly tousled. He leans back in his chair and absently pats the head of his Weimaraner Abby as he nods toward Plunket. “Chad is becoming the face of CASP. Chad has the energy to make things cook. He deals with artists, programming, raises money, sweeps up, and is woefully underpaid.”
Adams’ vision and Plunket’s management have made Lubbock the home of a unique artists’ facility not found anywhere else between Dallas and Albuquerque. Comprised of the Helen DeVitt Jones Print Studio, a metals workshop outfitted by the CH Foundation, and four live-work studio spaces for artists, CASP aims to create an environment for art talent to thrive in Lubbock.
“When you graduate with an art degree,” Adams points out, “you lose studio facilities and your support group of artists and professors. CASP steps into the breach that happens between the time that you graduate and the time you establish yourself. Our mission is to build and maintain studios for working artists.”
Adams remembers the day that he first began to envision CASP. He had attended a presentation by Louise Underwood and Jane Henry to the mayor’s council; afterward, he approached Underwood and told her he’d like to sell his house and to move his gallery space to be near the future site of the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts (LHUCA). It wasn’t long before Margaret Talkington, a major funder for the LHUCA project, approached Adams with an offer to help. At first, he declined, but Talkington was persistent. “I know you can do it,” she told him, “but if I help you, you can do more.”
“It was the ‘more’ that got me,” Adams smiles. “We started thinking about more.”
He patterns his inspiration for CASP on what he saw during his eleven years living in New York. Adams grew up in Lubbock—“my grandparents arrived in wagons”—and attended Texas Tech University before transferring to NYU in 1969. After graduation in 1971, he opened an art gallery in the West Village, carrying the work of printmakers. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Westbeth Artist’s Housing was taking root in an old AT&T/Bell Laboratories complex of buildings in the Far West Village, not far from Adams’ gallery. Westbeth offered live-work spaces for artists and their families, individual and communal studios, and sculptors’ and graphics studios, along with rehearsal and performance spaces. Adams recognized quickly the important role that organizations like Westbeth serve in supporting artists by providing studio space and the expensive facilities necessary for work in metals and printmaking. By 1980, though, his mother was in ailing health, and Adams was “actually missing the flat, dry brown and the prevailing winds” of West Texas. He came home, first opening the Charles Adams Gallery on Broadway, where it resided for fifteen years, before moving to Kingsgate Center for another fifteen.
Chad Plunket, who had completed his Master in Landscape Architecture at Texas Tech and his MFA in Sculpture at Clemson, came to work at the Charles Adams Gallery during its Kingsgate years. By then, Adams had long understood that local artists, in their pursuit of low-rent studios, were resorting to cheap warehouse spaces on the fringes of Lubbock.
“Artists are working in rough studio spaces, spread all over the edge of town. No heat, no air, nobody can find them. It’s taking them away from the public,” he says. “I know artists’ needs—I’ve been working with them all my life. They need space, facilities. I want to hold art talent in Lubbock longer.”
The construction of the four live-work studios at CASP came first. Each unit contains an efficiency apartment, studio space, and a small gallery. Soon after these were built, Adams acquired the old City of Lubbock police garage at 5th and Avenue J. Together, he and Plunket identified metals and printmaking as two areas with the most need in terms of scarcity of facilities and prohibitive expense of equipment. “We had been watching the LHUCA clay studio, how one building was serving 50-70 people, and we knew that printmakers needed the same type of space,” Adams recollects.
In addition to the printmaking and metals studios, the 5&J Building, as it’s now called, also houses the TTU: SOA Satellite Gallery. While artists are at liberty to rent the space for exhibition, a partnership between CASP and American National Bank has meant that students, both BFA and MFA, are able to exhibit rent-free. The facility is fully booked for 2015.
CASP has entered a new phase with the implementation of its artist-in-residency program, CASP AIR, a partnership with the CH Foundation. One of the four original live-work spaces has been set aside for the program. During a four-month residency, selected artists live and work on their art at CASP, receive a $900/month stipend, and are engaged in community outreach. The first artist-in-residence, Jeff Dell, a printmaker from Texas State University, is nearing the end of his term. He’ll be followed by painter/sculptor/photographer Bale Creek Allen (son of artist/songwriter Terry Allen); and 2015 will end with Pittsburgh sculptor Eli Blasko. Adams explains, “We chose these three artists because all three of them will be using the facilities that CASP and LHUCA have. We want to bring in really talented people to interact with the community and to take word back out.” If the two-year pilot of CASP AIR goes well, Adams hopes to seek funding to expand the residency program to all four studios and twelve artists per year.
Adams recognizes that he is in partnership with the Lubbock community in realizing his dream of CASP. In addition to its partnerships with LHUCA, the CH and Helen Jones Foundations, and American National Bank, CASP benefits from strong support from the city. The future performing arts center is a source of excitement, too; but there are challenges, as well, “Lubbock has lost a lot of downtown buildings, so it doesn’t have much in the way of abandoned buildings for creating an arts district. We’re having to build from scratch.”
Plunket agrees—Lubbock’s greatest need in the arts is more facilities. “I get asked consistently, when are you going to have more spaces available?”
Which is why CASP is looking forward to its next phase: twenty working studios, the size of four-car garages, behind the 5&J Building. These studios will be climate controlled and will place artists within the Lubbock arts community where people can find them. “With the First Friday Art Trail,” Adams explains, “We see that the public likes to see the process, to see how and why the work is created, and to get to talk to the artist.” The studio expansion will provide for this, allowing artists to work in spaces that rent for under market value while enabling CASP to become increasingly self-supporting.
Charles Adams foresees a phased approach to the new construction over the next several years, and he is optimistic about the growth and Lubbock’s art future. “In a city of the size of Lubbock, it’s easier to make a major contribution to the community.” Adams dreams of a viable arts district, a city “submerged in the visual and performing arts.” He jokes that his role has been that of a missionary in the field, winning one convert at a time for Lubbock arts. “Central Texas, South Texas arts are beginning to be aware of Lubbock arts,” he says. “LHUCA, CASP, and Texas Tech University can take credit for that.”
Images courtesy of Kristen Swartz (all artworks copyright of their respective creators.)
For our interview of debut CASP Artist In Residence, Jeff Dell, click here>>>.
For more about CASP, click here>>>.