Professional News

Back to the arts: New GSA director kindles a passion for creativity in young artists

Jason Brooks, Governor's School for the Arts director
Jason Brooks is in his first year as director of the Governor’s School for the Arts. The summer program began its sixth year at UK June 9. Photo provided by Brooks.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 14, 2024) — On June 9, more than 240 students arrived on the University of Kentucky campus for the first session of Kentucky’s Governor’s School for the Arts (GSA), which runs through June 29. More than 260 students will attend the second session, July 7-27.  

UK is in its sixth year of hosting GSA, but the program has been around since 1987, providing Kentucky high school students a mountaintop experience during three weeks of intense — and fun — instruction in nine artistic disciplines: architecture and design, creative writing, dance, drama, film and photography, instrumental music, musical theater, visual art and vocal music. 

For many students it will be their first time living on a college campus, and for GSA Director Jason Brooks it will be the first time directing the summer program. Although Brooks is new to GSA, he is not new to UK. In 2018 he was hired as director of education for the Martin Luther King Center. In 2020, prior to the pandemic, Brooks was appointed as UK’s executive director of institutional engagement. He was hired as GSA director in October of 2023. 

Brooks spoke to UKNow on June 7 during the GSA staff development week.   

UKNow: This is your first year as director of GSA. What was your reaction to being named to that position? 

Brooks: My reaction towards it was surprised, not because I didn't think that I was capable or able to do the job, but it was a humbling experience. The GSA Director position is such a trusted position to not only carry the banner of arts education, but to run with the baton of being one of the state’s top arts education, performance and visual arts influencers. Being in charge of an arts program that cultivates and nurtures 500-plus students every year and being trusted with those young artists that are coming into our ranks is a humbling experience and it's truly a pleasure, and a privilege to be able to do so.  

UKNow: What did you know about GSA before coming on board as director? 

Brooks: Surprisingly, not much. While I was working here at the University of Kentucky for the last five years, I have always seen the Governor’s School for the Arts — at least for the last few years here on campus. During the summer I would see kids or even administrators passing by within the student center or across campus, but never knew much about the actual program. This job opening came to my attention by way of another colleague here on UK’s campus who said, ‘You know, I read through it and thought this sounds like Brooks.’ And I wasn't necessarily looking at the time to exit the University of Kentucky, but I was looking for ways and outlets to be able to get back to my original passion, which was music. Since my background is in music performance and music education, I decided you know, what the heck, I might as well see what happens and apply and then six weeks later, I believe I ended up getting a call from the previous director, who is now the (Kentucky Performing Arts) Vice President for Education and Community, (UK alumnus) Nick Covault, for an interview.  

UKNow: What do you think makes UK a good fit for GSA, as it has been for the past five years, and now entering its sixth? 

Brooks: The University of Kentucky is the university of, for and with Kentucky.  UK has been such a phenomenal partner within the last few years. Whether it's from housing, facilities or IT, or even from the College of Fine Arts, Dean Mark Shanda has been a phenomenal asset and resource, along with Nick Johnson, who is the new director for the College of Fine Arts LLP (Living and Learning Program) and summer programs, and getting us here on campus itself. The facilities are phenomenal. They’re top notch and that's the type of experience we want our young artists that are coming to GSA to experience.  

UKNow: In your first outing as director, what are you most looking forward to about GSA this summer? 

Brooks: The students. I mean, hands down, for the last seven months I have been working directly with staff and faculty in preparation just for this first and second session. So, seeing our students, or our young artists — I interchangeably use those terms — come in not knowing what to expect, but seeing the results and the pride and the change in how they view their gift and their talents at the end of that 21-day process and seeing the growth, that's what I'm most looking forward to seeing. The development of these students coming through the halls of GSA becoming alumni. 

UKNow: Looking ahead what are your goals for GSA as director of the program? 

Brooks: Excellent question. This first year is all about assessment and evaluation. Where are the areas we can improve as an organization as it deals with efficiency and sustainability and what we would like to see moving forward? As we look forward towards the future, our goal is to continue offering a two-session model to the young artist of Kentucky.  As we continue to gain traction in arts programming and education, we will look at diversifying our artistic offering.  All of this is contingent on future partnerships with host future host campuses.  

UKNow: Let's talk about you for a moment. What is your background in the arts? 

Brooks: I hold a bachelor’s and master's in music performance, emphasis in French horn, with a graduate certificate in oboe. Those are not my original instruments. Starting in 6th grade, I was a saxophonist for the first few years and then I picked up the clarinet and flute, natural woodwind instruments that go along with that family. By that time period I had picked up the string bass. I also have 14 years of classical piano training. I play a little bit of trumpet. I know enough to fake my way around a pep band. My musical background is in orchestral music, but my professional career has been in higher education for approximately 16 years. 

Prior to higher education, I taught in the private school sector, pre-3 through 8th grade general music and then switched cities and taught K through 12. 

UKNow: Where did you grow up? 

Brooks: I am a Kansas kid by birth and right. I think I can still say that at my age. Born and raised in Emporia, Kansas. I was there for 30-plus years, went to Kansas City, taught for a few years and then came back to Emporia and started my journey in higher education while I was finishing my master’s. 

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.