In Her Comfort Zone: LHUCA's New Executive Director

New Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts (LHUCA) Executive Director Jean Caslin has hit the ground running. While her first full day on the job was a scant month-and-change ago on August 3rd, her appointment was announced in late February/early March. She’s transitioned into the directorship over the intervening six months, flying between Lubbock and her previous home in Houston for LHUCA’s annual February gala, First Friday Art Trails, and meetings with staff and board members. I met her last week in her sunny office on the back side of LHUCA’s main building, its large windows looking across Avenue J at the gallery and print and metals studios of the nearby Charles Adams Studio Project (CASP). Her bright blue walls are still bare; she hasn’t had much time to hang anything so far, and if her plans for the immediate and long-term future of LHUCA are any indication, those walls may have to wait a while.

Caslin on the LHUCA campus

Caslin comes to us from the firm Caslin Gregory & Associates, which she co-founded in Houston in 2005 as a fundraising and exhibit/event planning service for corporations and non-profits, as well as a consulting, marketing, and career coaching resource for individual artists. After only a few minutes’ conversation I was ready to hand her my own resume and ask for advice: this is a woman who absolutely adores the process of strategic planning—“it’s miraculous,” she beams, calling it a simultaneous source of comfort and energy—be that for individuals or for collective arts institutions. Caslin likes to have clear, straightforward maps and directions by which to steer, whether she’s on her own following the blue dot on her iPhone app to an event in Mackenzie Park (she went for the first time for the East Lubbock Community Alliance’s first birthday celebration on September 15), or guiding and facilitating an action plan for LHUCA. The Underwood Center has some serious strengths, she elaborates, including an active local community, support from the city, an engaged board of directors, and a committed and talented staff. It has also had unprecedented leadership stability: Caslin is only its third director during its eighteen years of existence. She sees her executive-director role as effectively triangulating those strengths of community, board, and staff to first reach consensus on LHUCA’s current, highest priorities, and then use those to ground a 3–5 year plan taking the institution forward.

In keeping with her commitment to collaborative planning, Caslin foresees a lot of “open space/Town Hall” type of activities to involve members of the wider Lubbock and regional community in the process of setting LHUCA’s goals and vision for the future. She is captivated, not surprisingly, by interactive installations and art experiences that involve the participation of audiences and spectators. She points out of her office window at the interactive “Before I Die …” exhibit (a chalkboard wall inviting passersby to complete that sentence however they wish), which has been installed at various sites around Lubbock over the past year and is currently in the CASP parking lot until the end of September. “I love that,” she says, and tells me to expect an upcoming series of interactive exhibits patterned on its model. Another LHUCA initiative she is particularly excited about is “Saturdays at LHUCA,” which will feature correlating lectures, artist talks, and gallery tours on late Saturday mornings. It’s her hope that audiences will come for the talks and tours, and then stick around for a food-truck lunch and a drawing or clay studio class in the afternoon. Counterbalancing this emphasis on local outreach and community involvement, plans are also in motion to continue to build LHUCA’s presence as a nationally recognized center for the arts. A partnership with Texas Tech’s Italian Studies Program, for instance, will bring acclaimed international artist Ezio Gribaudo to LHUCA in the spring.

It’s an exciting time to be in the Lubbock Cultural District with LHUCA as the anchor: the LHUCA campus itself continues to expand, most recently with the completion of the LHUCA Plaza (which officially opens on September 25); the Charles Adams Studio Project’s galleries and artist-in-residence programs continue to gather steam; Ballet Lubbock will move nearby, as will the College Baseball Hall of Fame; the Lubbock Entertainment & Performing Arts Association recently announced the design plan for its Buddy Holly Hall of Performing Arts and Sciences, to be built at Mac Davis Lane and Avenue L. Caslin sees LHUCA’s task among so many eager arts institutions and initiatives as one of “collaboration not competition,” fostering “smart partnerships” that ensure the health of the whole Lubbock arts community. If Jean Caslin doesn’t already have an effective plan or roadmap to reach that goal, I can guarantee that she’s working on it.

Image courtesy of Jennifer Snead. Scrolling image courtesy of LHUCA.

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