Love of the arts has always been ingrained in Caril Jennings. A native of Ogden, Jennings was a theater student at Weber State
University back in the ’60s. Jennings has worked for the WSU Department of Performing Arts for 22 years — seven years as department secretary and the rest as its marketing director. Even with her retirement this semester, her name is associated with many arts events that she counts on to continue.
While studying theater, she met her artist husband during a photography class together. She said she looked at him twice after she saw his paintings and all the books in the back of his car. Since then, Jennings has lived in a big city and out “in the middle of nowhere” in British Columbia, raised children, decided Ogden was “just right” and come back.
“I ended up where I started,” Jenning said. “But by the time I returned, theater, music and dance were all part of the same department . . . I got my degree in 1995 with more credits than I needed, but it was now in philosophy, anthropology and geospatial analysis, but more than half my credits were in the arts.”
Jennings attributed landing her current position to several things.
“I had done a lot of volunteer work,” Jennings said. “In fact, my portfolio that I used to apply for this job showed a lot of things I’d done with theater, music and visual arts . . . and things I’d done as department secretary. I’d written a column in the Standard-Examiner about public art galleries, and in the ’80s I worked for The Signpost. So I had a nice portfolio. I was in the right place at the right time.”
In 1994, driven by her love of visual arts and the acquisition of a rented space in downtown Ogden, Jennings opened a gallery called Universe City, a gallery that offered more than a forum for art.
“At the gallery, we didn’t just do art,” Jennings said. “We did a lot of readings there. Every January I’d do the Basin and Range show, talking about local environmental politics. I was open three weeks in a month. We did three major shows every year. February is when we’d do the Arte Gras. In March, I always did a materials show, focusing on the materials rather than the artists. And a couple of times I used students who’ve sculptured from the (WSU) Art Department, and by accident found artists I adore, (like) Rachel Rigley. . . . Some weeks we’d run short shows called ‘$99 or Less’, and students and other people would bring down inexpensive pieces.”
Jennings made her varied interests in the arts and the environment part of involvements like Water Works. When she heard about the water topic coming to WSU, she said, she thought it was perfect for dovetailing with showcasing local artists the way she’d done downtown with Universe City.
“(Though) we closed (Universe City) in 2011, we brought it back as ‘Universe City Lives’ on campus in the Shepherd Union this winter to let my friends know I was taking the show on the road,” Jennings said. “We never made money, ever. The amount I put into it probably could have bought a house and two fancy cars, but I never felt like any of it was wasted. . . . I do miss it a lot . . . It was (just) too costly for us to maintain it.”
Jennings’ use of the name “Universe City” has a long story. She had a community newspaper so named, and the name is registered with the state under her, so she has rightfully been able to use it for the past 36 years.
Other accomplishments Jennings said she is proud of include implementing Jazz at the Station, the Gospel Fest, the Classical Greek Festival (which began at WSU due to Jennings), xeriscaped gardens at the north end of the education building and recycling efforts on campus.
Jennings and Kathryn McKay, a WSU professor in the history department, collaborated on Weber Reads, now in its sixth year. Within that program, Jennings had three plays put on that were written by students. One student who participated some years ago used his one-act on “Beowulf” to help him get into graduate school in playwriting.
“One of my talents is to be able to put my interests together and find other people who are interested to do those things with me,” Jennings said. “In my head, I’m really asking, ‘Can you come out and play?’ And people do. There’s a lot of people that want to do things, but they’re just waiting for someone to ask them. So I’ll ask them. I have a good time getting people doing these things with me . . . Also, since my budget hasn’t changed all these years, I’ve become really good at making use of available free resources, which is something that’s good for artists.”
At the community level, Jennings said, she feels like her love of jazz and creation of Jazz at the Station reaches young and old.
“When they see people playing an instrument, it catches their attention,” she said.
Jennings said she believes a person born in the 20th century has the whole world as their culture and can access it — from the creation stories of other cultures to Westernized fairy tales and all the myths and legends. She said she has been able to orchestrate her many interests from her desk at the university, engaging in old-school, face-to-face marketing. To spend more time on the new marketing like Facebook, Jennings said, she felt she (or her replacement) really needs to be two people.
“Everybody’s too busy,” she said. “I’m busy, but I just can’t let opportunities go by . . . I want to do justice to each of them . . . I use Facebook, period. But I don’t use it as a marketing tool, just kind of a window.”
Jennings said she won’t quit her ties or interests at WSU, but that she plans on moving forward.
“I’m still going to do Weber Reads, the Greek Festival and Jazz at the Station, (the latter) for at least a year,” she said. “I haven’t looked back. I’m looking forward to retirement. I’ve already got a couple of organizations I’m going to be working for . . . I told myself I was going to give myself a year break, but I’ve already broken that. I’m acting as an adviser to the Ogden Chamber Orchestra . . . but I want to be behind the scenes . . . . I have 40 years (of experience) as a photographer. I want to digitize all those photos . . . You know, I wrote an essay when I was in junior high school that said I wanted to be around artists, philosophers, scientists and historians. That’s exactly who my friends are. I haven’t changed.”