HUDSON --- Darby Lunceford caught the theater bug at the age of 13 in East Texas.

The bug stayed with him throughout his life, taking him to Broadway, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and now Hudson

Lunceford has joined The Phipps Center for the Arts as its new executive director, following the retirement of John Potter this summer.

Lunceford studied theater in college with a communications minor. He knew early on he wasn’t going to be an actor, but he’s found his way as an administrator.

“I found my tribe in the theater,” he said.

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He started doing summer internships with Broadway producers, and then moved out to New York full time to work in advertising and marketing on Broadway. He was a part of big name productions including “Seussical” and “Chicago” and also worked with some big names, including Nicoel Kidman, Judi Dench and Liam Neeson.

Golden Broadway

“It was my golden time of Broadway,” he said. “Everybody has their golden era.”

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Lunceford was looking for a life change and moved to LA. He worked a series of jobs there for a decade, focusing on marketing and fundraising in the arts.

“As my career grew I started looking more at executive management,” he said.

With a few more stops along the way, Lunceford found himself in Minneapolis, first at the Children’s Theatre Company and then the Minnesota Opera.

On a visit to downtown Hudson seven years ago, Lunceford came upon The Phipps.

“I said, ‘That’s a place I should run someday,’” he said. “So I guess I threw it out into the universe.”

"I love the concept and the way The Phipps has always run in terms of giving the power of art-making to the community."

- Darby Lunceford

A move to Stillwater in September made the job an even better fit. He has always loved the area, he said.

“This area is somewhere that we always came,” he said. “Someone came into town and we brought them out here.”

The Phipps works in a unique way that larger institutions don’t, Lunceford said, choosing to make art a crowdsourcing effort rather than curated by one person. The community is able to engage with the center to foster art.

“I love the concept and the way The Phipps has always run in terms of giving the power of art-making to the community,” he said.

Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wis. RiverTown Multimedia file photo
Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson, Wis. RiverTown Multimedia file photo

The Phipps and its administrators work as facilitators of creativity for artists, performers and the community.

“It’s really fun to have the knowledge to work with them to make what they are doing come true,” Lunceford said.

Stepping into the role, Lunceford said one of his goals is to keep that core of creativity going.

Innovative by necessity

He knows the center also has to be focused on getting through this pandemic. That doesn’t mean just doing things to make it through, but looking at approaches that work not only now, but add something in the future.

“Look deeper and see if we can find innovation or creativity,” he said. “That’s the optimistic attitude.”

The board is supportive of that effort, he added: “The Phipps is not going to be defeated."

Just as healthcare workers and essential workers have been affected, the art is also facing a crisis during this pandemic. They can’t do what they do in the same way, he said, and in a way that’s enough to run a building and pay staff.

“We need the community to make investments,” he said.

The Phipps is open again, with safety regulations in place, and has plans for alternative productions.

Embracing technology is a part of moving forward, especially during this time period.

“If we’re not an organization that is nimbly changing to address that and meet those folks where they are, then we’re not going to be successful,” he said.

The center is also starting to address diversity and inclusion issues.

“We have to be intentional about it,” he said. “We know we have likely and unintentionally excluded people.”

Lunceford said he will hold himself as a leader in that regard, to continue the practice, as it’s not something that can change overnight.

He is looking forward to producing theater and arts again.

“Developing how The Phipps is going to move into the future is something I am very interested in tackling,” he said.