Andy Couch

Firehouse Art Center’s new executive director Andy Couch has ambitious plans for the cultural institution.

The Kansas City Royals’ ace catcher Salvador Perez has a superstition that’s made him popular with umpires, if not his opponents. Before games, the player drenches his jersey with Victoria’s Secret cologne.

The first time he did it, an umpire told him he smelled good and Perez hit a ball out of the park, and he’s been spraying it on ever since.

That was some of the unexpected information that Firehouse Art Center’s new executive director Andy Couch provided at a recent interview in his office.

During a relatively short career after taking his art history undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2012, the tall ginger has had a lot of gigs and gained wide experience.

That includes being associate curator of traveling exhibitions at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York, and the traveling curator for the “Baseball Hall of Fame Tour, We Are Baseball,” which traveled to 12 cities throughout the country.

One of those cities was Kansas City, where Couch learned why catcher Perez’s aroma is so much better than his teammates.

He spoke about how he’s the man to lead the Firehouse Art Center into the future.

“There’s several things we’re planning on doing at the Firehouse, and one of them is getting art exhibitions back,” Couch said. “It really gives us the potential to expand our presence in Norman’s arts scene. That will include having new artists in our galleries.

“I’m looking for relevant communities who haven’t been in the Firehouse for a long time or who have never been. We’re looking for things we don’t typically think about as fine art. Could be graphic design or community-based and culturally-driven partnerships.

“Our focus will be collaborative community connection, including our Healing Hands program, which we’ll continue. I’d love to bring in some veterans’ artwork. Our program that we’re hoping to expand with veterans would be wonderful.”

That would be a continuation of the program started by former Firehouse Executive Director Douglas Shaw Elder, himself a U.S. Army vet, who is now serving as Firehouse executive advisor.

As with most galleries and museums, the pandemic put the kibosh on in-person events for a time. That time has passed, and the Firehouse will soon resume mounting exhibitions of visual art.

“That will enhance learning capabilities, as well,” Couch said. “We really want our art instructor faculty here to use the gallery as a great teaching experience. We’re thinking about artist workshops by whomever is showing in the gallery at the time. How to plant the seed with new audiences who can use the Firehouse.

“I want to elevate what our assets are here. We have great instructors. I don’t know if everyone is aware we have jewelry and ceramics studios here. We work with glass and fiber. The potential for new audiences and educational experiences is high.”

Couch has a strong background in arts education. His 2019 graduate degree is in museum administration from Tulsa University.

He’s presently an adjunct professor at Rogers State University who has taught online classes in art appreciation, American history and museum studies.

Couch was founding program manager for Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum that brought arts exposure to over 9,000 students in 19 rural counties. That came through a mobile museum experience called “Gilcrease on Wheels,” which is an ongoing statewide outreach program.

Additionally, he was the founding executive director and curator of the Claremore Museum of History and co-chaired the Will Rogers Film Festival.

“The exhibitions will be great, along with some city partnerships we have planned to enhance our offerings here at the Firehouse and shaping the building up like it needs to be,” Couch said.

The Firehouse gift shop traditionally has a selection of local artisan-produced work. They’ve struggled keeping it staffed with retail sales employees. Shop hours presently are slim.

“We intend to have the gift shop fully operational in 2023,” Couch said.

Couch and spouse, Katie, grew up in Enid. His first job was at Leonardo’s Children’s Museum there.

They relocated back to Oklahoma after Couch’s last post as executive director and curator of the Nicolaysen Art Museum in Casper, Wyoming. The couple are ecstatic to be back in their home state.

“My in-laws live in Sapulpa, and I have some family in Oklahoma City,” Couch said. “Going to school at OU and growing up in Enid makes me a very prideful Oklahoman. Working out of state has always reminded me how much I love Oklahoma.”

Couch worked at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, Fine Arts Library and Jacobson House when he was an OU student.

Shari Jackson at The Depot, Jenna Bryant and Eric Piper at Oscillator Press and Curtis and Tammy Jones at Resonator Institute are people he’s excited to reconnect with.

Adding to his Norman cred, Couch is a Mike Hosty fan. He described the management style he’ll use at Firehouse as that of a servant leader.

“It’s not really my job to be in charge as much as it is to take care of those that I’m in charge of,” he said.

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