Arts for Lawrence names new artistic director, receives $100,000 grant


Arts for Lawrence recently received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which allowed the theater to hire Jay Hemphill as its new artistic director.

Hemphill previously served as the theater’s program manager. He said Arts for Lawrence had applied for NEA grants in the past, but this is the first year the organization was approved for the funds.

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“By receiving this grant, we now know we are on their radar and it helps us with other funding as well,” Hemphill said. “The grant itself will go toward operations. It’ll help our staff with their salaries and any sort of interns we may want to bring on and any additional staff we choose to add.”

In his new role, Hemphill said he will be the “face” of Arts for Lawrence.

“I’ll be out there speaking to the community and telling the story of what we do,” Hemphill said. “I’ll be crafting our vision for the future.”

Hemphill embraces the new position.

“I’ve been in the arts world for over three decades, and to run my own theater is a dream come true,” he said. “I come from the acting world, so to step into the arts administrative world is the next level of creativity for me.”

Arts for Lawrence Executive Director Judy Byron also is thrilled to see Hemphill in the new position.

“Jay joined AFL in December 2020 as program manager,” she said. “The theater was closed due to the pandemic, but Jay’s enthusiasm for what could be once we reopened was inspiring. And when we finally reopened, the execution of programs was excellent. Jay has a great vision for AFL’s future, and he was already becoming the face of Arts for Lawrence. The community loves his energy.

“I am honored to promote him to artistic director. I can’t wait to see what develops from his vision.”

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