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Art centers in Newport and Manzanita get new leaders

Chasse Davidson at the Newport Visual Arts Center and India Downes-Le Guin at the Hoffman Center for the Arts tout the sense of community at their coastal centers.

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Chasse Davison is new executive director of the Newport Visual Arts Center
Chasse Davidson is the new director of the Newport Visual Arts Center. “What I’d really like to see happen,” she says, “is an increased community involvement, a greater portion of the population served through this building.”

I married a guy, 6-foot-6, burly as a Viking, and with a simple name, Chan, everyone gets wrong. They call him Chad and Jan, also, Sam and Jim. And when they accept it really is Chan, they decide it must be short for Chandler. It’s not. I don’t know how much it bothers him, but I’ve been known to get a little snappy over the matter. So, you would think that I, of all people, would understand the importance of getting someone’s name right. And I do – except when I don’t.

When I first reached out to Chasse Davidson, new director of the Newport Visual Arts Center (VAC), I pronounced her name Chase and Chase-y, as opposed to the correct pronunciation, cha-sē (like car chassis). She graciously accepted my apology and we moved on. Then, I did it again. SIGH. Hopefully, now I’ll get it right, as I expect to be talking with Chasse about VAC happenings often. Chasse, by the way, does indeed get asked about her name often, and no, she doesn’t mind.

“Chasse is a family name,” she said. “I am from an entire family of Chasses. My great-grandmother was Rose Chasse. She was quite the lady and she passed away before I was born, so I was named Chasse Rose.”

Chasse Davidson moved to the Coast in 2007. She’s been a “gung-ho potter” for 25 years, and filled numerous roles in the coastal art scene, including ceramics teacher, former president of the Toledo Arts Guild and member of the VAC Steering Committee. She also managed Clay Works, a ceramics studio in Toledo, after the original owner gave her the business. But with COVID came the realization that paying rent on the space when there was no income was too great a financial risk.

“I closed and sold my stuff to my members,” she said. “Subsequently, five studios opened in town with the equipment I sold to my members. It was really sad, but I felt good about that.”

Davidson took over leadership of the Visual Arts Center in August. She has a good sense of the direction she’d like to take the art center, but is in a wait-and-see mode.

“I want to educate myself as far as the how and why things have been going the way they are before I start implementing my ideas,” Davidson said. “What I’d really like to see happen is an increased community involvement, a greater portion of the population served through this building.”

That might include changing gallery openings from Saturday afternoons to Friday evenings, opening exhibit space to more local artists, and working more closely with similar nonprofits in the community, such as the Lincoln County Historical Society and Lincoln City Cultural Center, to promote the arts.

“Sometimes change is hard for people,” she said. “That’s something I dealt with at Clay Works. I know what to anticipate and how to be sensitive to the reactions to that and make sure I’m not doing too much at once. I want to make sure I am in a learning mindset.”

India Downes-Le Guin, executive director at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita.
India Downes-Le Guin, executive director of the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita, says, “I really have been blown away and touched by how dedicated people are at the center.”

To the north in Manzanita, another arts center also has a new face at the helm, this one with a more familiar name.

Few Oregonians would have trouble pronouncing India Downes-Le Guin’s name. Likewise, there aren’t many it wouldn’t give pause. And yes, she is a member of that Le Guin family. Ursula K. Le Guin was her paternal grandmother.

Downes-Le Guin is not only the new executive director of the Hoffman Center for the Arts, she is also the first executive director of the center.

“This hire has been a long time in the works,” said Downes-Le Guin, who has a B.A. from Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., where she studied creative writing with an emphasis on poetry. “I really have been blown away and touched by how dedicated people are at the center. It’s truly been a labor of love that I am very humbled to be steering now.”

Formerly the assistant director for Tin House workshops in Portland, Downes-Le Guin and her partner moved to her grandparents’ Cannon Beach house in the midst of COVID. She describes herself as a “dedicated dabbler,” who is “into picking things up and seeing what sticks.” That curiosity and the readily available materials – thanks to her grandparents — are what originally led her to the Hoffman Center.

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“Everyone knows Ursula and Charles, too, for writing,” she said. “But they were really artists in the truest senses. They left behind paint, books, Ursula’s jewelry-making kit, paper. Just the raw material to make things. It’s really wonderful to use the tools they left behind to explore my whims.”

Only two weeks on the job, Downes-Le Guin hasn’t made any decisions about how she’ll lead the Hoffman, but after six years at Tin House, she’s no stranger to doing a little bit of everything – stacking chairs, reviewing applications, curating classes. In a town the size of Manzanita, at a nonprofit arts center staffed largely by volunteers, there’s little doubt she’ll be doing plenty of heavy lifting.

“Right now, my hopes are I can use this moment to strengthen what we already offer and build an even more sustainable organization,” she said. “I’m really drawn to the scale of Manzanita and the ability to really know the people around you. That sense of curiosity and meeting people at whatever skill level they are at is another reason I love the Hoffman. I feel like that there is something for everybody here.”

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pups Luna and Monkey.

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