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Kathleen Davis, director of the Carlsbad Arts and Culture District stands in Halagueno Arts Park, Oct. 7, 2020 in downtown Carlsbad. (Photo: Adrian Hedden | Carlsbad Current-Argus)

Kathleen Davis discovered her love for the arts growing up in the Catholic church in her native Ireland, raised awash in traditional Celtic music.

She was raised in Doolin, a village on the west coat of Ireland which Davis said was known as the “home of traditional Irish music.”

Growing up, Davis, 26, said she probably played every classical Celtic instrument there was and was surrounded by celebrations of arts and culture.

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And when she moved to the U.S. to be closer to her stepmother’s family during her senior year of high school, graduating in 2012 from Carlsbad High School, Davis said she came to a city with vast cultural potential in need of a rebirth of artistic awareness.

Her stays in Carlsbad were short in the years following, as Davis attended college at New Mexico State University and found herself traveling to Austin, Texas, Boston and Kansas working in the hospitality industry.

It was November of last year when she came back to the Cavern City for what Davis thought would be another temporary stay, but the COVID-19 pandemic left her unable to travel.

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“Honestly, I did not plan on staying,” she said. “At the beginning, I saw it as a negative. I felt like I was stuck. As it went on, I felt like I was where I belonged. I was looking for more ways to give back to the community.”

While she found an avenue for public involvement through the Downtown Lions Club and Carlsbad Beautification Committee, Davis recently took her desire for service to the next level.

She was selected as the new director of the Carlsbad Arts and Culture District.

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Known as the Pearl of the Pecos, the District partners with other local organizations such as Carlsbad MainStreet to encourage artistic and cultural awareness throughout the city via local events and projects.

Davis said her aim is to better engage the Carlsbad community, even as the dynamic in town and its residents can change dramatically with the ups and downs of the oil and gas industry as temporary workers and their families flow in and out.

She said she saw the city grow gradually over the years from a sleepy retirement community to a booming industrial city, but always knew it also had the potential to become a vibrant hub of creativity and expression.

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‘I wasn’t looking for a job.’

As her time in Carlsbad lengthened, Davis said she met more of the city’s leaders and was able to network although she wasn’t originally looking to join them in an official capacity.

“I wasn’t looking for a job, but I was meeting all the right people,” she said. “It was meant to be. People don’t know the rich culture in Carlsbad. It’s been overtaken. Here, everyone is so caught up in everything, they don’t appreciate what’s around them.”

Among her priorities in leading the district, Davis hoped to complete the work to get Carlsbad designated by the State as an official Arts and Culture District.

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That work began with her predecessor Julie Chester and would raise the profile of Carlsbad’s artistic and cultural offerings throughout New Mexico.

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Director of the Carlsbad Arts and Culture District Kathleen Davis (left) and Arts and Culture District President Mary Garwood stand in Halagueno Arts Park, Oct. 7, 2020 in downtown Carlsbad. (Photo: Adrian Hedden | Carlsbad Current-Argus)

She also hopes to continue working with the City to complete the restoration of the Cavern Theater in downtown Carlsbad, which could serve as a venue for future performances and shows.

Another goal, Davis said, is to expand the Carlsbad Farmers Market and increase the number of local vendors.

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“For me, arts can be many different things,” she said. “With COVID, people have tapped into their creative sides. People want something to do, or even make a little money.”

Mary Garwood, board president of the Arts and Culture District who also serves as director of Keep Carlsbad Beautiful said Davis stood out from the applicants for her genuine desire to give back to the community without recognition.

“She didn’t want to get paid or hold a position, she just wanted to know what she could do to help,” Garwood said. “She had really proactive ideas. That helped build her recognition and she had that real interest without any personal gain.”

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Garwood said Davis will have to be able to quickly adapt to changes in the city and be open to a variety of ideas and perspectives in leading Carlsbad’s art community.

The new director will also have to network with small businesses, Garwood said, and partner with other organizations on projects.

“She’s open to new ideas and perspectives and sees the potential we have here,” Garwood said.” Carlsbad has the culture. You might have to dig but it’s here.”

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And even with the restrictions placed on the Carlsbad and the rest of the nation by the COVID-19 pandemic, Davis said the people of the community continue to increasingly show their artistry.

She said she hopes to bring awareness the creative minds of the Cavern City and help others see the beauty.

“Every time I moved, I came to Carlsbad,” Davis said. “I got to see the changes that were happening. I hope to get more people to care about what’s around them. With the travel restrictions, people are more appreciative of what they have.

“The void I hope to fill is the appreciation. That’s what I want to share. You don’t have to leave to see the beauty.”

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Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, [email protected] or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

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