Kerns: Gala honors those active within Lubbock’s arts

No matter how proud, no matter how humble, it has not become any easier typing my name on anything other than a byline.


Still, I was informed 15 years ago that the board of directors at the Louise Hopkins Underwood Center for the Arts, aka LHUCA, had created an annual honor called the William Kerns Award for the Performing Arts. I was stunned, but certainly liked the idea of honoring those active within, and aiding, Lubbock’s arts.

Award winners are introduced at the LHUCA Gala, a fun affair that tends to sell out on the weekend preceding Academy Awards Sunday.

In late 2008, I requested that these Kerns Awards be doubled, so to speak, and the next year the same committee would also choose a William Kerns Award for the Visual Arts winner.

Years down the line, the LHUCA board decided to surprised a Lubbock person or business with its own Catalyst Award at the same gala.

What we already knew this year: The LHUCA Gala takes place at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 24 at LHUCA, 511 Ave. K. The annual event includes a seated dinner, live auction, silent auction and announcing of winners of the William D. Kerns Award for Performing Arts and Kerns Award for Visual Arts. An after-party also takes place at the LHUCA Icehouse, 511 Ave. J.

Call 762-8606 for all prices and details.

I do serve on committees choosing Kerns Award winners — but there always are a minimum of five committee members, eliminating possibilities of ties. One might be surprised how often award winners are chosen unanimously.

The 2018 performing arts and visual arts award winners are singer-songwriter-poet-playwright Andy Wilkinson and visual artist Renee Steger Simpson.

Winning the LHUCA board’s 2018 Catalyst Award is the Lubbock Arts Alliance, represented by Elizabeth Regner.

Simpson and Wilkinson did not immediately establish themselves as artists. One failed art class in college found Simpson establishing her first career in accounting. Wilkinson wore a badge, a police officer in Lubbock and Lakewood, Colorado. Then he tried opening a brokerage firm and worked as a certified financial planner.

Both experienced a shot in the arts in the early 1990s.

Simpson found initial arts success when, more than 25 years ago, the public loved a new watercolor series called Snooty Women.

Despite Renee’s showing a consistent lack of enthusiasm and anything resembling appreciation, she recalled that her mother made her attend “charm school, etiquette workshops and modeling classes” in an attempt to improve her social graces as a child. Decades later, Simpson would mix watercolors with comic satire, painting well-dressed snobs who remind her of those classes.

Her Snooty Women emerged to immediate approval in 1992.

Through joyful ups and depressing downs, Simpson was convinced that she never wanted to paint only one subject, despite her 300-plus completed Snooty Women resulting in unending requests for commissions. Her follow-up series — be they horses or saints — revealed her style, but none ever will be mistaken for photo-realistic.

Local music fans found Wilkinson in 1990 via CD “Texas When Texas Was Free.” He pulled out all the stops when paying tribute to relative Charlie Goodnight, then found the right voices for each set of lyrics, illustrated with historical poetry, and brought dozens of entertainers together for recreations that could have been performed around campfires in the past century.

Wilkinson’s research revealed a caring for heritage, both his own and that of the land. Poetry gave way to plays with music, and local recognition mushroomed into multiple Wrangler Awards from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

Wilkinson pays it forward: recognizing past talent, helping young students find their own songs, and serving as artist-in-residence at Texas Tech’s Southwest Collection.

* Past Kerns Awards for the Performing Arts: 2004, Don Caldwell; 2005, John Gillas; 2006, Suzanne Aker; 2007, Doyle Gammill; 2008, Gerald Dolter; 2009, Alan Shinn; 2010, James Bush; 2011, Chris Caddel; 2012, Melissa Grimes; 2013, William Ballenger; 2014, no award (health conflict); 2015, Yvonne Racz Key; 2016, Mark Charney; and 2017, Pam & Jay Brown.

* Past Kerns Awards for the Visual Arts: 2009, Carol Howell and Ginger Bundock; 2010, Tornado Gallery; 2011, Jim and Erika Johnson; 2012, Eddie Dixon; 2013, James Watkins; 2014, no award; 2015, Lynwood Kreneck; 2016, Lee Ware; and 2017, Toni Arnett.

* Past Catalyst Awards presented by LHUCA board of directors: 2014, Charles Adams; 2015, William Kerns; 2016, Visit Lubbock, accepted by John Osborne; and 2017, Texas Tech Public Art System, accepted by Emily Wilkinson.

Check out Twitter at AJ_WilliamKerns.

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