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Remembering Nancy Lukasiewicz, Founding Director of the Lyndon House Arts Center

Nancy Lukasiewicz celebrating her retirement from the Lyndon House Arts Center in 2016. Credit: Don Nelson.

With its various exhibitions, performances, lectures and classes, the Lyndon House Arts Center exists as a multifaceted venue serving all ages, artistic tastes and walks of life. This cultural institution would not be what it is today without the vision, leadership and decades-long dedication of former director Nancy Lukasiewicz, who died of cancer on Feb. 12 at the age of 71. 

Incredibly kind and approachable, Lukasiewicz was a thoughtful, tactful advocate of the arts. With a fairy godmother-like flair, she was also an inspiring mentor and teacher who knew how to meet artists exactly where they were on their path, help them appreciate the value of their own creative ideas and ultimately motivate them towards pursuing their passion. Under her wing, anyone could be an artist in some form or fashion, and art itself existed for everyone to experience and enjoy. This down-to-earth attitude and emphasis on the importance of accessibility to the arts remains integral to the center’s current structure and programming. 

After receiving their BFA degrees at Carnegie Mellon University, Nancy and her husband Ronnie relocated to Athens in 1973 to pursue their MFA degrees at the University of Georgia. The following year, Ronnie was searching for a location to host a juried art show when he landed an opportunity at the city-owned Ware-Lyndon House, a circa 1850s late Greek Revival home on Hoyt Street that survives as a relic of the historic Lickskillet neighborhood. The exhibition helped launch the first government-sponsored community arts program, and Nancy took the helm as director not long after. She worked tirelessly to secure grant funding and develop partnerships with artist guilds, many of which continue to use the center as a meeting space today. 

“I want to express my deep gratitude for her hard work and dedication to the arts center for four decades,” says Beth Sale, program specialist in exhibitions at the LHAC. “She created a welcoming and nurturing environment, embracing all people. Everyone who met her wanted to participate and be present in this space. Athens rallied around Nancy’s vision of this magnificent community arts center. The spectacular facility we call the Lyndon House Arts Center would not exist without her.”

Together, Nancy and Ronnie were instrumental in advocating for and steering the Lyndon House Art Center’s $6 million SPLOST-funded renovation and expansion, which added 33,000 square feet of space for galleries, a small gift shop to sell artists’ wares, and studios fully-equipped for seven different disciplines. Sadly, Ronnie died in 1998, a year shy of when the newly expanded facility officially opened its doors to the public. Nancy then moved into her new role as curator of exhibitions, which she continued up until her retirement in 2016 after a 40-year career at the center.

“Over the years before she retired, Nancy was a watchdog with me, always keeping an eye on the direction I was taking the Lyndon House into the future,” says Didi Dunphy, program supervisor at the LHAC. “The day she told me she was retiring, I asked her why. She said she wanted to be sure I was the right person to leave the Arts Center to. I thanked her most generously.”

Lukasiewicz’s enduring legacy can be felt through the 47th annual Juried Exhibition, which opened on Mar. 3. Guest juror Miranda Liash, the Ellen Bruss Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, selected 160 pieces from a total of 656 submissions entered by 237 artists. Now nearing its golden anniversary as a community tradition, the exhibition reflects the diverse range of creations produced by local artists working in a variety of media not limited to painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography, textiles, video, metalwork and woodwork. 

An accomplished artist in her own right, Nancy specialized in weaving, was an early member of the Athens Fibercraft Guild and taught classes at the center for many years. Among the dozen-plus awards distributed during each year’s juried exhibition, the Nancy Lukasiewicz Award for Excellence in Fine Crafts often recognizes kindred textile artists.

The Juried Exhibition will remain on view through May 21, and artist talks will be held on Mar. 17, Apr. 21 and May 19 at 6 p.m., as well as Apr. 2 and Apr. 23 at 2 p.m. 

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