Arts & Culture

‘The Best 3 Weeks of Your Life’: UK, GSA Alumna Enjoys Opportunity to Give Back to Kentucky’s Young Artists

photo of Emma Lucas directing masked GSA 2021 students out of Singletary Center
photo of Emma Lucas (pink leotard center) and her fellow dance class members at 2016 GSA
photo of Emma Lucas dancing at GSA 2016
photo of Emma Lucas (left) with the GSA 2020 administration team outside under tree

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 16, 2021) — This weekend University of Kentucky will say goodbye to more than 250 of the state’s most creative high school students as the curtain falls on the 2021 Governor’s School for the Arts, a tuition-free intensive three-week summer program.

As part of GSA 2021, this Saturday student-artists from 43 Kentucky counties will complete their rigorous schedule of daily online seminars, creative projects, master classes and lectures, with instruction focused on the school’s nine disciplines: Architecture + Design, Creative Writing, Dance, Drama, Film + Photography, Instrumental Music, Musical Theatre, Visual Art and Vocal Music. 

Like many GSA students, faculty and staff, 2021 UK arts administration and communication graduate and UK College of Fine Arts GSA staffer Emma Lucas will be sad to see all the smiling faces leave, but hopeful for the future of the arts in Kentucky.

UKNow recently caught up with Emma Lucas, a Louisville native and former GSA participant, to find out more about GSA's impact and her experience working on the summer program at her own alma mater.


UKNow: When did you first hear about GSA?

Emma Lucas: I think my mom first brought up GSA about a year or two before I was eligible to apply. I also had some friends who went to GSA before I did. I really learned more about the program through talking with them and hearing about their experiences, which made me eager to apply.

UKNow: What was the experience like for you personally as a student?

Lucas: It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

I was actually named an alternate the first year I applied. I worked really hard and was accepted the next year.

I went during the summer of 2016 for dance, and the program was hosted at Centre (College) at the time. The experience in itself is one that is hard to put words to. I still think back on it and can’t believe I was lucky enough to be a part of something so special.

I was surrounded by young, eager, creative minds and people who were passionate about the same things I was. I was able to learn from some amazing teachers and grow as a dancer but also as a human being. I got to spend three straight weeks doing what I love. It was definitely hard, and it pushed me outside of my comfort zone, but that only made the experience more fulfilling. I had always heard that GSA would be "the best three weeks of your life," and it truly lived up to those expectations.

UKNow: Any favorite memories?

Lucas: So many! We had a dodgeball tournament on the Fourth of July, which was so fun. Every morning we would count off in our artform groups to make sure everyone was present — those count-offs are harder than you would think! And the choreography that I learned was so much fun to perform.

But the collaborations were my favorite. We collaborated with Visual Art, where we painted our hands and feet and then danced on a blank canvas in the parking lot. We also were working on a collaboration with Architecture + Design, and they created a structure that we performed in/around outside. We had our dress rehearsal one night, and it started raining. Our faculty just kept yelling “don’t break character! Keep going!” so we kept dancing in the rain. But eventually it really started pouring so they finally stopped us, and we all sprinted across the lawn with all of our stuff to get under cover. We were still laughing about it weeks later.

UKNow: How do you think GSA prepared you for college?

Lucas: GSA solidified the fact that I wanted to be involved in the arts in some way, shape or form, and it was also where I first learned about the field of arts administration.

We had a College & Career Day, so we got to meet with representatives from all sorts of universities and programs across the country. I was able to listen to a presentation given by GSA’s two interns, and they talked about what their role was with GSA and about arts administration. As I was listening to them talk, I just kept thinking “this is definitely something I can see myself doing.”

UKNow: What made you choose UK for college and your areas of study?

Lucas: There were a couple of factors, the first being that I got a GSA scholarship for UK. I also knew that I wanted to be able to dance, and UK’s dance minor would allow me to explore other opportunities while still giving me that creative outlet.

But what solidified it was the arts administration program. I had always been fascinated with the “behind-the-scenes” part of the arts, and GSA made me even more intrigued, especially after having great conversations about the future with my teachers, other faculty and the RAs (residential advisors). I looked more into the programs at UK and really thought both the arts administration program and the dance program would be a great fit for me.

I worked with Theresa Bautista at GSA, but she also teaches at UK, so knowing I would have the opportunity to continue working with her was a huge plus. I was sold on arts administration pretty quickly, and then I was able to add a communication major to help enhance my skill set. Once I got going, I quickly felt at home in all three programs.  

UKNow: You were a GSA intern during college. What made you go back to GSA?

Lucas: I worked as the intern for GSA during the summer of 2020. I knew that I wanted to go back to GSA as an intern after I experienced the program. Again, it goes back to that fascination with making programs like that happen. I was fortunate to have been accepted and to have had a life-changing three weeks, so I wanted to be a part of giving another group of students the same experience.

Summer of 2020 was a bit different, though. Because of COVID-19, GSA hosted an all-virtual program. I was so grateful and proud to be part of a team that was able to make that virtual program happen. I learned so much from the GSA team during my time with them last summer.

UKNow: What did you do in that intern position?

Lucas: I assisted the GSA administrative team with developing ideas and a sort of “framework” for parts of the summer program, as well as manage logistics. I helped manage all the Zoom details (meeting links, schedules, etc.) and helped produce some of the virtual morning performances and the virtual opening and closing ceremonies.

I also worked on the #HeyGSA fundraising campaign that raised over $20,000 last summer to help ensure that future groups of students get to experience the program.

UKNow: How was that experience working with young artists virtually?

Lucas: It was so rewarding! Unfortunately, I didn’t get to be in direct contact with the students, but I was still able to learn so much from them. I could immediately tell that the students last year were so eager to learn as much as they could, which was really inspiring for me to witness.

Learning virtually during 2020 was a challenge for all of us, so to see these students so engaged and interactive during this virtual program was really motivating and refreshing to see. We had virtual morning announcements, and I would sit and watch their comments come through and read about what they had learned, what they were looking forward to that day, and the affirmations they left each other. It only solidified to me that this program truly is special, and it can positively impact everyone involved no matter where you are.  

UKNow: You are now back in a third capacity, working for UK College of Fine Arts as it hosts GSA. What made you want to take this job?

Lucas: I am so grateful to Emily Elkins and the UK team for letting me assist with GSA this summer. I was so excited to be involved in a different capacity and to see the program from a different perspective.

I took this job for a lot of reasons — I knew I could gain valuable experience, stay on campus for a bit longer after graduation, and continue to work with and learn from Emily. But I was also beyond excited to help make this experience possible for another group of students. I have loved getting to watch this program happen in person. 

UKNow: How excited are you that UK has been the host that last several years?

Lucas: I think it is so great that UK is able to host. Our campus is beautiful, and our studio spaces are second to none.

I also think it’s a testament to CFA’s faculty and staff and their willingness to welcome young creative individuals into their spaces. I have always admired our faculty and staff for their ability to create a welcoming environment and their willingness to connect with their students, so the fact that they have been willing to do the same for GSA students is amazing. They have all been so helpful and accommodating, which speaks to their welcoming nature.

UKNow: What have you learned about GSA from this perspective?

Lucas: I’ve still been working on lots of logistics. But this time around, I’m working on them from UK’s side of things. So, I’ve been working on the GSA footprint and making sure all the spaces GSA occupies during their three weeks on campus are ready to go. I also helped welcome the students to campus and find recruitment opportunities to showcase the College of Fine Arts and the University of Kentucky.

In addition, I supported the CFA student staff that were hired on for technical support for the program, and I worked closely with Singletary Center staff and CFA staff to ensure adequate coverage and assistance was provided during GSA’s time on campus.

Finally, because of my familiarity with Holmes Hall from my experience being the senior peer mentor for the Creative Arts LLP (living learning program), I was able to help GSA’s Residential Life staff with their needs and provide assistance in those spaces. 

UKNow: Any favorite memory this time?

Lucas: I think one of the best memories from this time around has just been seeing it all happen. Because I had been involved in the program before, I sort of knew what to expect once the students arrived on campus, but the past few weeks have exceeded those expectations.

Welcoming students and helping them move in took me all the way back to my move-in day five years ago. I’ve had a couple of chances to see the students in studio, but I’ve found joy in the little things. Just hearing music around the building has been so wonderful because it’s been so long since I’ve been able to hear live music.

UKNow: What do you hope this year's class takes away from the experience?

Lucas: I hope this year’s class walks away knowing that they are a part of something special, and they are joining a supportive community of alums. I also hope they walk away knowing that this is an experience that they will carry with them for a long, long time.

UKNow: Finally, what's next for you?

Lucas: I’m heading back to Louisville after GSA wraps up! I’m actively seeking opportunities and ways to continue learning and growing as an arts administrator. I am also a dance teacher at Louisville Academy of Fine Arts, so I’ll be gearing up for our fall semester to start!



GSA is a public/private partnership inaugurated in 1987 by The Kentucky Center (now Kentucky Performing Arts), The Commonwealth of Kentucky and numerous private supporters. Today, the vital funding required to make GSA a reality is provided by the state through the leadership of the Governor’s Office and the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, as well as The Kentucky Center Endowment Fund, Toyota Motor Manufacturing and more than 300 corporations, parents, educators, alumni and friends of GSA. 

To keep up with GSA, follow the program online on FacebookTwitter and Instagram of search for #HeyGSA.


The University of Kentucky College of Fine Arts offers Kentucky’s broadest collection of visual and performing arts academic programs with four academic units. The college is also home to the Singletary Center for the Arts and the UK Art Museum. The College of Fine Arts declares that the arts are essential to the life of the individual and the community. We express our commitment to the arts through our dedication to teaching, scholarly research, artistic experimentation, performance, and exhibition. 


The mission of Kentucky Performing Arts is to build lifelong relationships with the arts. As an integral member of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet, Kentucky Performing Arts, along with the other agencies, seeks to preserve and promote the history, heritage and arts of the Commonwealth.

Three locations comprise the family of venues under The Kentucky Performing Arts umbrella:

The Kentucky Center is located at 501 West Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202

The Brown Theatre is located at 315 West Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202

Old Forester’s Paristown Hall is located at 724 Brent Street, Louisville KY 40204

To learn more, visit and

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.