All the best works of art — and people — begin with a story.
It’s a lesson Henderson, Kentucky, native Greg Gibson says was one of the most important that he learned when he began his career as an Imagineer for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Today the 57-year-old works as the executive director for the Henderson Area Arts Alliance, an organization dedicated to creating a vibrant community through providing quality arts experiences.
“You brainstorm and write the story before you even pick up a pen or a pencil, before you start drawing or designing,” says Gibson, who graduated from Henderson County High School and the University of Cincinnati. “That was a good lesson to learn as a young designer.”
His story begins in Henderson with his two brothers, who were active in sports playing football, basketball, and golf. Gibson attended every art course possible, taking classes at the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science and at the former Main Street location of Red Spot Paint and Varnish Co. in Evansville.
“I was a kid who was the product of the arts, and if I hadn’t been, I wouldn’t be sitting here today,” he says.
Gibson’s passion for the arts led him to designing floats during an internship for the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City, interning with Walt Disney World, working for ITEC Productions Entertainment, amusement park and themed entertainment designers located in Orlando, helping to create the $3 million centerpiece for Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit resort for children with life-threatening illnesses, and theming youth healthcare clinics.
After spending 22 years working in Florida, Gibson returned to his hometown to support and assist his mother in caring for his grandmother. He continued to design healthcare environments for children through Gibson Entertainment Design Associates, a design-consulting firm, such as Playville and the Center for Children at St. Mary’s Medical Center. He also rebranded St. Mary’s Center for Children’s logo. Gibson later became the program director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Henderson County.
Two years ago, when a position opened for the director of the Henderson Area Arts Alliance after former director Kyle Arnett Hittner resigned to become executive director of the Henderson County Tourist Commission, Gibson jumped at the opportunity to grow arts in the community.
What are the challenges you face as the executive director of the arts alliance?
I’m a one-man-show. Some of the hats I wear are securing the artists, coordinating food, transportation, hotels, promote and market, selling tickets, and presenting it, and while simultaneously fundraising. We also do art outreach with the schools. The Henderson Area Arts Alliance is totally autonomous from the Fine Arts Center at Henderson Community College. We also support five other art organizations under our umbrella: the Ohio Valley Art League, Henderson Society of Art, W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival, and Bluegrass in the Park and Folklife Festival.
What did you learn from working in entertainment design?
I learned a lot from Henri Landwirth, the founder of Give Kids the World, about marketing, fundraising, and about how to treat people. He was a survivor of the Holocaust and a prisoner in a concentration camp. He was able to be really successful partnering with all these large corporate entities in the Orlando area. His organization is phenomenal. That was a life changer. That led me into designing a lot of healthcare environments for children that were highly themed. It was like an extension of their vacation.
Why is it important to engage youth in the arts?
I know how much it can affect your life in a positive way. There is so much learning that takes place and imagination in giving a child a crayon, a paintbrush, an instrument, and letting them go to town. I feel strongly about that. I know from Gifted and Talented Education teachers how thin they are stretched. They are rotating kids throughout art classes because they don’t have the resources. I really love working with kids. They are inspiring and they will tell you what they think.
What is your overall vision for the arts community?
We have great music festivals. I think we have only tipped the iceberg. I think the Sandy Lee Watkins Songwriters Festival held in Henderson, Kentucky, is just phenomenal. I would love to see partnerships with Evansville like shuttling residents back and forth. There is so much we can do together to secure ourselves as an arts destination. There are so many people born in this zip code that have gifts in art. I would like to incorporate local artists into our annual events and establish an arts endowment to help with our capital.
For more information about the Henderson Area Arts Alliance, call 270-826-5916 or visit haaa.org.