Don Kimes and Lois Jubeck have a lot of children, but only three of them are biological.
Kimes and Jubeck, Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution’s artistic and managing directors, respectively, have been running the School of Art for 30 years. They’ve mentored thousands of students, many of whom refer to Jubeck and Kimes as “Mom” and “Dad.”
The married couple completely rebuilt the school and the Institution’s visual arts programming after arriving in the late 1980s, and will retire after this summer. Sharon Louden, an artist and author who has spoken and taught at Chautauqua numerous times since 1992, will take over Kimes’ job as VACI artistic director and Sydelle Sonkin and Herb Siegel Chair for the Visual Arts. John Anderson, Jubeck’s current assistant, will be VACI managing director.
When Louden shared Chautauqua Institution’s Facebook post about assuming Kimes’ current position next summer, she was met with nearly 1,000 responses.
“When I applied, nobody knew what the Chautauqua School of Art was,” Kimes said. “And in the responses to Sharon, there wasn’t one comment (that said) ‘What is Chautauqua?’ Everyone knows what it is.”
Jubeck and Kimes acknowledged that visual arts was present at Chautauqua before their time on the grounds, but Kimes called it an “afterthought” of the Institution at that time.
“Don did build this program from scratch. … It will always be in Chautauqua’s history that Don started the visual arts program,” Jubeck said.
Kimes took the job as visual arts director in 1986, soon after he started teaching at American University. He’d already worked as a faculty member and program director at the New York Studio School, and wanted to bring certain aspects of NYSS to Chautauqua.
“(NYSS) just had this incredible faculty — people who were really involved, who were established professionals, active professional artists,” Kimes said. “It was not academic in the university sense. It was more of an atelier where you came and you worked with those artists, and that was the part I tried to bring with me.”
Kimes felt NYSS encouraged “Art with a capital ‘A,’ ” or, as he explained it, non-careerism-based art. He admired the school’s community and degree of seriousness, which Kimes wanted to continue with Chautauqua’s School of Art.
Jubeck, pregnant with their second child when she became VACI managing director in 1989, figured she’d hold the position for a few years. But, she said, “One year went to the next, and I kept doing it.”
“It enabled us to be here as a family for the summer, and it seemed like a really good thing to do for our kids,” Jubeck said.
The couple’s three children, now ranging in age from 26 to 32, grew up on the grounds. They each worked various jobs — gardener, ice cream scooper, maid, Amphitheater sweeper, paperboy — while their parents ran the School of Art.
For 18 years, Jubeck operated a gallery out of the current Chautauquan Daily office. Jubeck and Kimes led the effort to raise enough funds to renovate what is now Strohl Art Center, and later Fowler-Kellogg Art Center.
Kimes ensured that Strohl’s galleries had museum-grade lighting and temperature specifications, and ran them for three years with a grant from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.
Judy Barie, Susan and Jack Turben Director of Galleries, joined Kimes and Jubeck at VACI 14 years ago.
“The friendship that I’ve developed with them over the years has been wonderful,” Barie said. “I’m so appreciative that they made me part of the team.”
Since she stepped into her current position 12 years ago, Barie said, she’s enjoyed the “camaraderie” and “frenzied pace” of that team.
“I think Don has established a tremendous legacy here … with all of VACI, but particularly with the School of Art,” Barie said. “He and Lois, through fundraising, School of Art faculty selections and renovating our two art centers have changed the face of visual arts here. I will miss Don’s intellectual curiosity and his great sense of humor.”
Kimes and Jubeck will spend next summer in Italy, at a villa they first visited in the 1990s.
At the time, Kimes was on sabbatical from American University for a year, and the couple made plans to spend it in Australia. When Barbara Rose, an art critic, offered them her villa in Italy’s central Umbria region, Kimes and Jubeck decided to change their plans.
After a 36-hour trip to Italy that fall with three young kids in tow, Jubeck was wary.
“We were on a highway, then a road, then a dirt road, then a path, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to kill Don,’ ” Jubeck said.
But once they reached the 500-year-old Villa Pieve, Jubeck and Kimes were charmed by its surrounding town (which was built before Rome) and decided they were about to have the best year of their lives (which they did).
Next summer, the couple will trade VACI for another acronym — the Pieve International School’s Art and Culture in Italy residency, or ACI. Kimes called VACI his and Jubeck’s “castle in the air,” quoting Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, but said it’s time for them “to build a new castle in the air” in Italy.
Of everything they’ve accomplished in their three decades at Chautauqua, Kimes and Jubeck take the greatest amount of pride in their students and how successful they’ve been in the art world. The couple, Jubeck said, “gives (students) the permission” to embrace careers as artists, when parents or other people in their lives discourage them from doing so.
“There’s nothing better than that,” Kimes said. “It’s not the bricks and mortar. It’s not having a nice gallery. It’s not having ‘X’ amount of dollars to work. It is that somebody realizes that they can be an artist, and there’s a point to that.”
Kimes and Jubeck’s daughter, Elaina Kimes, compiled a video of the couple’s former and current students expressing their gratitude for the couple’s influence and mentorship. A number of artists and educators, like Lisa Corinne Davis and Judy Glantzman, also offered Kimes and Jubeck congratulations in the montage.
Paul Hauth, who teaches at the School of Art over the summer and at the Flint Institute of Arts during the rest of the year, recorded a message for Kimes and Jubeck from Michigan.
“Every so often, on a clear night with the full moon, maybe you can look up at the sky and I’m looking up at the same sky, either from here in Michigan or at Chautauqua, or wherever I may be and you may be,” Hauth said. “Thank you all again for everything.”
Bonnie Ashmore, an instructor at the School of Art, also recorded a message for Kimes and Jubeck:
“I love you both, and I will miss seeing you, even at Bellinger,” Ashmore said.
She also credited the duo with helping her obtain a position as a full-time art professor at North Shore Community College in Massachusetts.
Kimes said working with the School of Art students is unlike anywhere else he’s taught before, in that they’re uniquely motivated and professional. Jubeck said simply “being a normal person” helps her and Kimes bond with them.
“(It’s) being kind and realizing that they’re struggling with their art, and they know that we support them in what they’re trying to do,” Jubeck said.
The couple has also made sure to bring a diverse pool of artists to speak in VACI’s twice-weekly lecture series.
“When we bring the faculty, we bring single people, divorced people, older people, people with families,” Jubeck said, “so (the students) see this range of artists in different phases of life and realize, ‘I fit in somewhere there. I can do this, too.’ ”
“I love to experience their passion,” Kimes said of his students. “I think that keeps me passionate.”
Kimes and Jubeck are often too busy to get out of the Arts Quad during the summer, or to reflect on their time at Chautauqua until after each season ends. But at the Special Inter-arts Matinee on July 29, Jubeck said it started to sink in that they were leaving.
The show, which brought together all of the Institution’s performing and visual arts disciplines for a performance in the Amphitheater, featured a piece by Kimes called “Equality.”
He started crafting “Equality” during his first year in Chautauqua, and decided to start working on it again last summer. Kimes considers it a “bookend” to his time at the Institution.
At the Inter-Arts Matinee, Kimes himself was also acknowledged. The Institution also announced plans to honor Kimes and Jubeck’s legacy with a tree and plaque placed in the Arts Quad, and with a scholarship organized by VACI Partners.
The plaque will read: “The Sassafras seed planted in the Art Quad has been planted in honor of the 33 years of leadership provided by Don Kimes, Artistic Director, and Lois Jubeck, Managing Director.
“May VACI continue to grow from the roots they so deeply embedded and nurtured.”
Kimes often talks about teaching “Art with a capital ‘A.’ ” To skeptics of the importance of the arts and arts education, Kimes points to the fact that they are some of the most enduring aspects — if not the most enduring aspect — of ancient civilizations.
“When we think of the great civilizations of the world, the first thing we think of is their art,” Kimes said. “Art is about the elevation of the human spirit.”